Salvadoran news outlets have been closely documenting the thousands who have been arrested since last week, when the state of emergency came into effect. Detention centers in the capital, San Salvador, are so full that detainees are being sent to jails in rural areas.
While the government has claimed that the 6,000 people arrested since last week are all gang members, evidence is emerging that innocent civilians are being rounded up as they walk through their neighborhood, torn away from their children, friends or relatives and piled onto buses before they are driven off to jails across the country. On Tuesday, a journalist watched as a child with autism was detained, his mother crumpling onto the street, wailing with grief.
The news media has faced withering criticism from government officials, including accusations that they are sympathizing with gangs. A local news outlet, El Faro, was the first to break the news of the government’s pact with the gangs, and after that article was published, spyware was downloaded on the phones of most El Faro reporters.
Observers have raised concerns about the independence of El Salvador’s judicial system during the state of emergency. Last week, Mr. Bukele took to Twitter to order the investigation of a judge after the judge freed several gang members. Hours later, local news media reported that the judge had been transferred to a remote area in the interior of the country, presumably as punishment.
Under the state of emergency, freedom of assembly has been banned and the right to state-sponsored legal defense upon detention has been suspended. Since the arrests are unfolding in the poorest neighborhoods in the country, the change affects mostly detained residents of those areas.
Mr. Bukele has mocked the international community and rights groups that have expressed concern over the arrests.
“If they love the gang members so much, come get them, we’ll give them to them two for one,” the president Tweeted recently.