Salvadoran archbishop praises government crackdown on gangs

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador said on Sunday that most people support a months-long state of emergency that has detained tens of thousands of suspects in a crackdown on violent street gangs.

While critics say the campaign has violated human rights and dragged apparently innocent people, Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas said Salvadorans support the measure.

“People are afraid to go back to how it used to be, now that they have started living without this plague,” said Escobar Alas.

El Salvador’s gangs, estimated to number some 70,000 members, have long controlled parts of the territory, extorted and murdered with impunity.

Since March, the country’s congress has allowed extension after extension of its original 30-day emergency decree suspending some constitutional rights.

“People don’t want the violence to return,” the archbishop said at a news conference. “They don’t just want these things to be maintained, they want them to move forward, for the violence to end.

His comments came the same day that relatives of young men caught in raids tried to march to the presidential palace to demand their release, saying they were innocent. Police stopped the march before it reached its goal by erecting barricades.

According to human rights activists, young men are often arrested based on their age, appearance or because they live in gang-dominated slums.

Escobar Alas said he had heard the families’ complaints, and he urged President Nayib Bukele’s government to avoid “these margins of error” and ensure prompt and prompt hearings to release those who may be innocent.

After gangs were blamed for 62 murders on March 26, Bukele sought extraordinary powers.

Under the state of exception, the right of association, the right to information about the reason for an arrest and access to a lawyer are suspended. The government can also intervene in the phone calls and mail of anyone they consider suspicious. The time that a person can be detained without charge has been extended from three days to 15 days.

The authorities have made arrests, often with very little evidence. Generally, those arrested are accused of being members of or associated with one of the country’s powerful street gangs.

Civil and human rights groups say arbitrary arrests are common and that when detainees finally see a judge, they are almost automatically sentenced to six months in prison pending trial. Some people have died during their captivity.

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