Suchitoto, El Salvador: On July 2, 2007, 14 activists were arrested and faced 20-60 years in prison for partaking in a nonviolent, permitted protest against the privatization of water. The 14 were originally charged with "public disorder," but the government changed these charges to apply to their new "anti-terror" law that criminalizes protests as "Acts against the State."
The July 2, 2007 crackdown was intense and involved every branch of state security-military, riot police, civil police, Special Forces... they used helicopters that dropped gas bombs on the community while the forces brutalized people for 8 straight hours. Twenty-five people were wounded by rubber bullets, and countless others were severely affected by the excessive use of gas.
We heard stories of military troops chasing down children who were trying to give water to the injured. Despite being as young as five years old, the children were chased into their homes and gassed by troops.
Some of those facing charges were actually rounded up en route to the protest. They were singled out as some of the organizers. Even more troubling about the arrests is that not only did the organizers notify the government about the rally, but they were given permits for the event.
One of the 14 who was arrested, Patricio Valladeres Aquino, recounted how he nearly died in prison as a result of the wounds inflicted upon him. Medical attention was delayed for several days despite his deteriorating situation. In addition, he was placed in a communal high security prison among some of the country’s most violent criminals. The women spoke of having to sleep on the floor of a rat-infested cell block and being denied food and water. We also heard first-hand accounts of individuals being flown by helicopter to maximum security prisons. En route, they were terrorized with a variety of intimidation tactics that included threats of being thrown from the helicopter. Many of the military and police involved in the crackdown and interrogations did not have any identification on their uniforms - and had their faces covered with black masks.
Human rights organizations in El Salvador and around the world denounced the terrorism charges, enabled by El Salvador’s 2006 Special Law Against Acts of Terrorism; and due to increasing pressure, on February 21, 2008 all charges were dropped against the “Suchitoto 14”.
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