The Daily Telegraph

El Salvador forces inmates to destroy gang member graves

- By Sam Meadows

THE president of El Salvador has defended making inmates destroy tombstones of gang members following criticism from human rights groups.

The Central American country is waging a war on gangs, including the notorious MS-13 group, and declared a state of emergency last year after a spike in murders and violent crime.

More than 56,000 suspected gang members have been arrested in a crackdown that has sent the approval ratings of Nayib Bukele, the president, soaring to as high as 90 per cent, according to the Internatio­nal Crisis Group. But some of his methods have been criticised by human rights groups, which say people, including children, have been detained without due process and there have been deaths in custody.

Prisoners have been sent to destroy tombstones with sledgehamm­ers and crowbars. In a video posted to social media last week, Mr Bukele said the move had been “applauded” at home and abroad.

He said: “We are not prohibitin­g gang members from having graves. What we are prohibitin­g is for their tombstone to read: MS13 or 18th Street Gang. In El Salvador ... those symbols are banned. Gang symbols are not allowed anywhere: not in graffiti, not at home, not on bodies, not on people’s graves.”

He cited German attempts to “denazify” after the war by banning swastikas.

Two out of every 100 Salvadoran­s are currently locked up, leading to the country having the highest incarcerat­ion rate in the world.

Last month, pictures were published showing the first inmates arriving at a new mega-prison in Tecoluca, around 50 miles from the capital, which will eventually hold 40,000 inmates.

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