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At least 261 people have died in El Salvador's prisons under anti-gang crackdown, rights group says

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — (AP) — The human rights organization Cristosal said Wednesday that at least 261 people have died in prisons in El Salvador during President Nayib Bukele's 2 1/2-year-old crackdown on street gangs.

Under a state of emergency originally declared in 2022 and still in effect, Bukele's government has rounded up 81,110 suspected gang members in sweeps that rights groups say are often arbitrary, based on a person's appearance or where they live. The government has had to release about 7,000 people because of a lack of evidence.

The group said in a report that, as of April 15, 88 of the 261 deaths “may have been the result of a criminal act,” though it did not specify what those acts may have been.

The report said 87 of the deaths were due to illnesses, 14 were apparently “acts of violence” and no cause could be immediately identified for the other 72.

“People have died in El Salvador’s prisons and jails because of torture, a lack of food, unhealthy conditions, an inhuman lack of attention and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said lawyer Zaira Navas, who authored the report. “There is a deliberate policy of not protecting the rights of incarcerated people.”

There was no immediate reaction from the government to the report.

While the government is accused of committing mass human rights abuses in the crackdown, Bukele remains highly popular in El Salvador because homicide rates sharply dipped following the detentions. The Central American nation went from being one of the most dangerous countries in the world to having the lowest homicide rate in the region.

Bukele rode that popularity into reelection in February, despite the country’s constitution prohibiting second terms for presidents.

In April, a report by the rights organization Humanitarian Legal Relief estimated that at least 241 people had died in Salvadoran prisons since the start of the crackdown.

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Follow AP's coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

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