The government announced the massive prisoner transfer with a cleverly produced video posted on social media. It showed prisoners being forced to walk barefoot and handcuffed up and down stairs and across empty ground, wearing only white shorts. They were then forced to sit with their feet closely bunched in cells.
“What, they’re saying the darn dictatorship didn’t give the prisoners tuxedos? Shameless? Right now we will take money from children’s hospitals and buy them shoes! Which brand do you think they would prefer?” Bukele wrote.
The government’s Justice and Peace Minister, Gustavo Villatoro, said on Wednesday that suspected gang members would never return to the streets, even though some 57,000 of those arrested are still awaiting formal charges or trial.
“They are never going to return to the communities, neighborhoods, barrios, cities of our beloved El Salvador,” Villatoro said.
Around 3,500 people swept up in the action have been released so far.
Human rights groups say there have been numerous cases of prisoner abuse and that innocent people have been killed in police raids.
Local rights group Cristosel documented 3,344 cases of human rights abuses in the first 11 months of the state of emergency. Most of the abuses involved arbitrary arrest; Relatives claim that young men are rounded up based on their appearance, or because they live in low-income neighborhoods.
There have also been complaints of inadequate medical treatment in prisons.