Society for Threatened Peoples greatly concerned about the fate of 20 political prisoners in Chile
One week into Mapuche Indian hunger strike
July 19, 2010
Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) is greatly concerned for the fate of 20 Mapuche Indian political prisoners in Chile. For the past week they have been on on indefinite hunger strike in prison establishments in Concepción and Temuco, protesting against unfair arrest and detention and politically-motivated charges. They are hoping that their hunger strike will also draw attention to the desperate plight of their people. These Indian civil rights activists are being held on charges relating to land rights disputes under the notorious anti-terrism legislation dating back to the era of the Pinochet dictatorship and are due to be tried by military tribunals.
"The most important of the demands being made by these 20 prisoners, some of whom have already been on remand for as much as 18 months, are the repeal of the anti-terrorism legislation, an end to the use of military courts to try Mapuche and the immediate release of all political prisoners", STP's indigenous peoples representative Yvonne Bangert declared on Monday in Göttingen. "They claim to have been subjected to physical and mental mistreatment by the police while in prison. They are also anxious to ensure that the public are aware of the Mapuche community's demand for self-determination in their traditional Araucanían homeland south of the Bio-Bio River." The 650,000-strong Mapuche are the largest indigenous group in Chile.
STP has made an urgent appeal to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people James Anaya to insist that the Indian civil rights activists receive a fair trial in the civilian courts. He is also being pressed to urge the Chilean government to repeal the outdated anti-terrorism legislation. The UN has emphatically condemned the use of this legislation to punish Mapuche in the past.
Chile's anti-terrorism laws allow prisoners to be held on remand for very long periods of as much as two years. "Cases are heard in the military courts where so-called "faceless" witnesses are allowed to give evidence anonymously, giving free rein to informers and making the Mapuche's defence very much more difficult", Ms Bangert noted. Sentences of five to ten years imprisonment are frequently handed down, accompanied by massive fines many time larger than in the civilian courts. Typically Mapuche have been charged with terrorist arson when hay bales, loggers' huts or piles of timber have been set on fire during attempts to reoccupy ancestral land. Mapuche have paid a high price for unarmed resistance. In 2009 two young Indians were killed by police in the course of disputes over the exploitation of Mapuche land by settlers and logging firms.
Yvonne Bangert can be contacted for further information by telephone on 0551/4990614 or by e-mail at email@example.com.