State of Exception -- first person accounts of torture

Trigger Warning -- this post includes first person accounts of torture and abuse within El Salvador's prisons during the State of Exception, now in its third year.  These accounts are important to hear.  These are the testimonies from people released from Salvadoran prisons -- in other words, these individuals spent months in these hellish prisons even though the government lacked proof of any ties to gangs.  [Note: torture and abuse are wrong even when committed against the guiltiest criminal, but this post contains only the stories of persons who were freed]. These are the stories of people who chose to speak to the media despite the very real risk that doing so could result in their return to hell.  

Journalist Victor Barahona spent 11 months imprisoned under the State of Exception before being freed.  He recounted what he lived through:

"[The cell] was suited for perhaps about 50 people, but there were 100 of us. We slept like sandwich bread, because otherwise, we wouldn't fit in. We slept on our sides. They gave us some mats, that who knows how many years they had them there; then we all started itching and scratching. You can still see the scars on my body, horrible, all of us covered with them, and we had no medical assistance (he shows scars on his hands). 
We didn't have sun.  They didn't take you down to sunshine; we were in the cell the whole time. Only when we had just arrived, they took us down about twice for about 15 minutes, for some photographs, and then they took us back up. 
They woke us up at 2 in the morning to take a bath. We were all sick, with a nightmare... we were so itchy, they gave us some of those Gillette deodorants, and with that little blue cap, all of us. At night it seemed like we were playing the violin scratching back and forth, (he makes the movement with his arms)... we bled our skin, to bleed those welts, because that would calm the itching. After that, you slept a little peacefully.
Eliseo is a recent university graduate with a law degree who was carried off based on an anonymous phone tip and spent three months in the prisons.  He said in an interview:

When they took us to Ilopango they treated us badly, because there were about 500 people in a cell, when the space was for about 100,” he remembers. It was impossible to sleep because everyone had to stand due to overcrowding, he says. “In the first cell in Ilopango, which they call the annex, there is not even a bathroom, you have to relieve yourself in a bucket, then you have to go out and empty it yourself,” he details. 
After several hours in the annex, the guards forced the group of men to do push-ups and began to take them to another sector, but they had to move in a squatting position and anyone who did not do so quickly was beaten. “Being in that sector you can't talk, you can't get up because there are a lot of people. If you talk or make a fuss, the guards make you do push-ups,” he says.

Here is the story of Enoc, a farmer freed after ten months in the prisons and after submitting to a polygraph test:  

In a matter of hours, without ever having imagined it in his life, Enoc was entering the Izalco prison, a prison inaugurated in 2017 exclusively for gang members. There he began the nightmare that would last ten months for the farmer. 

The “welcome,” as the beating that each inmate receives upon entering the prison is known, consists of beatings with clubs and kicks by the guards, as a measure of pressure to get the inmates to admit that they were members of a gang. Enoch relates that after they were stripped naked, about 30 guards hit them with batons on the head, abdomen, ribs, back and heels. “Some didn't get up anymore, they were left lying there,” he remembers. “In addition to the beatings, there was psychological torture because they told us that the only way to get out of there was dead,” he adds. 

After the beating, Enoch was taken to a punishment cell where he remained for seven days. There were 400 inmates there, including civilians and gang members. The only ventilation was a door, so there was not enough air and many people fainted. “When someone fainted and we notified the guards, they told us that it was better for us to die because we had no right to anything,” he says. 

Enoch relates that during the seven nights he was in the punishment cell he did not sleep due to the wounds he had on his back due to the blows he suffered. They gave him the “welcome,” but others were in worse condition, he remembers: ribs, arms or legs broken by the beating.

Simón, an agricultural worker in the Bajo Lempa region, was profiled by FOCOS:

Simón's complaint coincides with that of two other people released from the Mariona prison who were interviewed by Focos. All the testimonies indicate, for example, that the welcome to newcomers is a beating by the guards. 
When Simón entered the prison he could barely walk due to the pain caused by a sore on one of his feet, caused by the diabetes that he has suffered from for 23 years. “Hey, walk halfway, otherwise we're going to kill you,” a guard yelled at him when he saw him crawling on the floor. “They had everyone kneeling and with their hands on their feet. I couldn't kneel because of my foot. A guard arrived and said to me: "You gangster, why don't you kneel?" "Because I can't stand, miss," I told her. She kicked me with her boot and I raised my head from the blow.  I saw that the others were running and that they were being hit with clubs,” says Simón. 
Afterwards, they cut his hair and sent him to a cell where, at first there were about 50 people and then more than 100. From then on, it became impossible to sleep lying down, even on the floor, and the inmates had to start taking turns so one could get some rest.

Members of the LGBTI community captured under the State of Exception were subject to special abuse as described in a report in La Prensa Grafica:

Two gay men were victims of a guard who humiliated them for the simple fact of their sexual orientation. “One of the guards was homophobic, he knew that they were both gay and what he did was that on the pavement they made them hug each other naked from 12:00 to 1:00 in the afternoon, and they made them roll together. In one of those occasions the guard had water heating up for instant soup and he poured it on one of them. The pair has scars as a result,” John said. Both were lucky enough to be released, but for fear that a similar situation would occur again, they had to flee the country. The identity of both was not provided to avoid reprisals against their families.

The online periodical El Faro has also collected 14 audio testimonies from individuals held for months under the State of Exception.  You can hear in their own words the experiences of persons arbitrarily arrested and then subjected to the inhumane conditions of the Salvadoran prison system.

It is not only those inside the prisons who suffer and die.  A journalist and lawyers told the story of Rosario.  She died waiting for a kidney transplant from her husband, held within El Salvador's prison under the State of Exception.  A court had ordered him released from prison to make the operation possible, but the prison system and the prosecutors refused to do so.

Human rights organizations have documented hundreds of deaths within the prisons during the State of Exception, thousands of arbitrary and unjustified detentions, and widespread reports of torture, abuse, malnutrition and medical neglect.  Tragically it is often the bodies delivered to families which bear witness to the suffering endured within prison walls.   

No part of the torture and abuse inside prisons makes El Salvador any safer under the State of Exception.  When the government has someone in custody, they are not a threat to the public, and subjecting them to torture does not reduce crime on the streets.   How is the Salvadoran state better than the gangs it is fighting if it beats, tortures and starves innocent persons, who have not had a trial or been convicted of any crime?  

This post is the 6th in a series as the State of Exception in El Salvador enters its third year. Read the earlier posts in this series:
Opening photo from Izalco prison during State of Exception from social media account of Salvadoran government.