SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – El Salvador’s government on Friday transferred thousands of suspected gang members to a newly opened “mega-prison”, the latest step in a controversial crackdown on crime that has sent the Central American country’s prison population soaring.
“This will be their new home, where they will not be able to harm the residents any more,” President Neb Bukele wrote on Twitter.
About 2,000 accused gang members were taken to the 40,000-capacity prison, which is considered the largest in the Americas, early Friday morning.
In a video released by Bukele, stripped prisoners wearing white trousers and their heads shaved are seen running through the new prison to the cells. Many bear gang tattoos.
Bukele asked his allies in El Salvador’s congress to pass a state of exception last year, which has been extended several times since then, that suspends some constitutional rights after a spike in murders attributed to violent gangs.
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Since then, more than 64,000 suspects have been arrested in the anti-crime network. Arrests can be made without a warrant, the government can access private communications, and detainees no longer have the right to a lawyer.
Human rights organizations say innocent people have been caught up in the policy, including at least dozens who have died in police custody.
But Bukele’s anti-gang campaign is still very popular with Salvadorans, and the country’s security minister told Reuters it will continue until all the criminals are caught.
Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Written by Kylie Madre. Editing by Leslie Adler
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