El Salvador begins transfers to 'mega prison' amid gang crackdown

At least 2,000 inmates moved to country's new 40,000-capacity jail

Inmates belonging to gangs arrive at El Salvador's new prison. AFP
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El Salvador's government moved thousands of suspected gang members to a new “mega prison” on Friday, the latest step in a controversial crackdown on crime that has caused the Central American nation's prison population to soar.

Around 2,000 accused gang members were moved to the 40,000-person-capacity prison, considered to be the largest in the Americas, early Friday morning.

“This will be their new home, where they won't be able to do any more harm to the population,” President Nayib Bukele wrote on Twitter.

In a video posted by Mr Bukele, prisoners stripped down to white shorts, with their heads shaved, are seen running through the new prison into cells. Many have gang tattoos.

Mr Bukele asked his allies in El Salvador's Congress to pass a state of exception last year, which has since been extended several times, that suspends some constitutional rights after a dramatic spike in murders attributed to violent gangs.

Since then, more than 64,000 suspects have been arrested in the anti-crime dragnet. Arrests can be made without a warrant, private communications are accessible by the government, and detainees no longer have the right to a lawyer.

Human rights organisations argue that innocent people have been caught up in the policy, including dozens who have died in police custody.

But Mr Bukele's anti-gang push remains widely popular with Salvadorans, and the country's security minister told Reuters it would continue until all criminals are captured.

Updated: February 26, 2023, 4:44 AM