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First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

Inmates accused of belonging to the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs arrive at a new “mega prison” called the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism in Tecoluca, 75km (45 miles) southeast of San Salvador. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

The first 2,000 inmates of a new prison built in El Salvador to accommodate more than 40,000 suspected gang members targeted in President Nayib Bukele’s “war” on crime have arrived at the facility.

Bukele tweeted on Friday: “At dawn, in a single operation, we transferred the first 2,000 members to the Center for the Confinement of Terrorism (CECOT),” which he said is the largest prison in the Americas.

“This will be their new house, where they will live for decades, all mixed, unable to do any further harm to the population,” the president said.

Human rights organizations said the state of emergency Bukele has used to make the arrests has led to serious human rights violations. Among them are “mass arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment against detainees, deaths in custody, and abuse-ridden prosecutions”, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Bukele posted a video showing barefoot, tattooed men wearing only white boxers, bent over with their hands behind their shaven heads. Each inmate sat with his legs on either side of the man in front of him as armed guards in balaclavas guarded the prisoners.

They were loaded onto buses, hands and feet in shackles, to be taken to the new prison in a convoy that included helicopters.

At the new facility, the men were similarly lined up before being led in large groups into their cells, where they are left sitting on the floor next to stacked metal beds. The warden told journalists while unveiling the facility that no mattresses would be provided.

“We are eliminating this cancer from society,” Justice and Public Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro said on Twitter about the inmates.

“Know that you will never walk out of CECOT, you will pay for what you are … cowardly terrorists,” he said.

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

The first 2,000 inmates were transferred on February 24, 2023, to what El Salvador’s government calls the largest prison in the Americas. It was built to house 40,000 suspected gang members. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

The prison is equipped with high-tech surveillance and is part of President Nayib Bukele’s crackdown on gangs. It began in March and has led to the arrests of more than 63,000 suspected gang members. Gangs have an estimated 70,000 members in the Central American country. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

Bukele ordered the prison to be built after he declared a “war” on gangs. The operation’s mass arrests have caused killings and extortion to plummet, and opinion polls show more than 90 percent of the public approves of the crackdown despite evidence of abuses. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

The “mega prison” consists of eight buildings made of reinforced concrete. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

Each of the prison’s buildings has 32 cells of about 100sq m (1,075sq ft) designed to hold more than 100 inmates, according to Public Works Minister Romeo Rodriguez. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

Each cell has two sinks and two toilets. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

There are 80 metal bunks for every 100 prisoners, and human rights groups and observers have criticised the construction as a violation of incarceration standards. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

“There will be no mattresses in the cells,” the prison warden, who wore a ski mask to protect his identity, told journalists when the project was unveiled. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

The prison is equipped with dining halls, exercise rooms and table tennis tables, but they are exclusively for guards’ use. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

Prisoners will leave their cells only for legal hearings conducted by videoconference or to be punished in windowless, unlit isolation cells. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

First inmates transferred to El Salvador's new gangster prison

El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly has repeatedly renewed a state of emergency for the gang crackdown. It suspends some constitutional rights and gives police more powers to arrest and hold suspects in the violence-plagued country. [Salvadorean Presidency/AFP]

 

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