|False Charges on San Salvador Vendors Dismissed|
|Written by Peter Gabny|
|Tuesday, 14 April 2009 14:01|
Witnesses say police planted evidence
The 14th Court of Peace in San Salvador released Roberto Alexis Víchez Osegueda, Adalberto Martínez Mejía, Carlos Alexander Soriano, Alfredo Mauricio Rivas Campos y José María Elizondo on Tuesday and dropped charges by the Attorney General's Office (FGR) that they had been selling child pornography. Family members believe police instigated the vendors' wrongful arrests.
On April 8, 18 members of the Finance Division of the Salvadoran National Police (PNC) raided several vending stands in the Central Market of San Salvador as part of an operation to seize pornographic merchandise. After confiscating hundreds of videos from approximately eight vendors, witnesses say the police proceeded to place the videos in stalls that were not connected to the raids and make arrests.
Witnesses said that the police assaulted two of the vendors when they attempted to cover their faces from television cameras and reporters.
"None of the vendors were selling pornography and none of them are gang members. They are vendors and nothing more," said the sister of one vendor. "The police are accusing them of something they didn't do. They [the police] put the videos they confiscated on my brother's table and essentially said, 'Here's the evidence'."
"They [FGR] had no evidence against my son yet they showed his picture all over the television and newspapers," said Yanira Ortiz, mother of one of the vendors who she chose not to name. "It was as if he had already been convicted."
The arrests are perceived by many as an attempt by the Salvadoran right wing to instill fear among thousands of vendors in the Central Market and to reproduce criminal images of thousands of low-income workers in the informal sector, over 65% of the workforce of San Salvador.
"They took my son from behind his stand for no reason, then stole his merchandise and all of the money he had earned for the day," said the mother of another arrested vendor. "He doesn't sell pornography and never has. They're just doing this to us because they don't want us here. They think it's OK to violate our rights because we're poor."
As street protests began that night in response to the raid, members of the Unit and Maintenance and Order (UMO) division of the PNC arrested another man, Carlos Chávez Alexander, for 'public disorder' as he was walking home from work. Alexander's family believes he was singled out because of his appearance.Seven more arrests made throughout the night -- which resulted in charges of 'Illicit Activity' and 'Public Disorder' - were also dismissed by the Court for lack of sufficient evidence.
"The police said he looked suspicious to them because he doesn't dress like a worker and carries a bag over his shoulder," Alexander's mother reported. "Do the police arrest people for looking different? He's never been arrested before but with these charges, he could have served 3-5 years [in prison]." Alexander's friend was also detained temporarily but eventually released at the scene.
According to organizers, the PNC have made an annual routine of raiding the Central Market during Easter holiday. "I don't know if the PNC celebrates anniversaries but for some reason every year they return before, during, or soon after Semana Santa (Holy Week) and try to provoke unrest," said vendor and organizer Martin Montoya.
In April 2007, an almost identical set of PNC actions took place, which failed to provoke a response from the vendors. The police revisited on May 12th, where they were met with heavy opposition. In all, 20 arrests were made and 14 vendors were charged with terrorism. After several months in jail, where vendors faced substandard living conditions and the loss of thousands of dollars in family income, the Secret Court on Acts of Terrorism dropped the charges in February 2008.