Imprisoned Mapuche activists end hunger strike after 118 days

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile — Four activists for an indigenous group in Chile, the Mapuche, have ended their hunger strike of 118 days. The men starved themselves in protest of their imprisonment and the terrorism charges brought against them.

Protestors in Chile demand justice for Mapuche prisoners. Image Courtesy of Telesur.

After a year and four months of imprisonment with no trial, the strike has come to an end. The Chilean government announced its decision to drop the controversial terrorism charges against these Mapuche prisoners. Alfredo Tralcal, a leader of the indigenous group, and brothers Benito and Pablo Trangol ended their strike as a result. The fourth prisoner, Ariel Trangol agreed to resume a normal diet again the day after his brothers, totaling 118 days on strike.

These prisoners are accused of burning down an evangelical church last year. The church was in a southern region that the Mapuche claim as their ancestral territory.  The court brought them up on terrorism charges through a law that dates back to General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973-1990. This law is known to be abusive and a violation of human rights. It authorizes officials to keep suspects in isolation without charges for up to two years, as well as the use of secret witnesses in trial.

In protest of this outdated and highly controversial law, the men endured a hunger strike for over 100 days. According to a medical expert, on September 1st the prisoners had lost 15-22kg and were presenting serious symptoms such as a deterioration of brain function. At one point, one of the four progressed to stop drinking liquids. Reports say that two of the men had to be taken to a hospital because of their weakening condition.

As their relatives watched them deteriorate, they begged the government to allow a common trial and drop the terrorism charges. The government remained steadfast and refused to let them out on house arrest, even though they have not been able to uncover any incriminating evidence since the arrest one year and four months ago.

The government’s refusal led to protests all over Chile. They called for justice for the indigenous Mapuche inmates. In Santiago, the police clashed violently with demonstrators who marched through the streets chanting for “Mapuche dignity.” The police used water cannons to break up the protest.

The Mapuche is Chile’s largest native ethnic group. They have been fighting with the government for two centuries over the land they lost in the 19th century. After battling conquest for 300 years, the Chilean military expanded and overtook their land. They encouraged European immigrants to colonize the area and the Mapuche have been struggling ever since. Today, the Mapuche are the poorest group in the country and suffer from illness, malnutrition, and discrimination.

Mapuche claims on land have resulted in “decades of struggle, leading to violence and death against leaders, as well as women, children, and the elderly by the Chilean state.”

For further information, please see:

Telesur – After 118 Days Mapuche Prisoner Ends Hunger Strike – 2 October 2017

Greenleft – Chile: Support for Mapuche political prisoners grows – 29 September 2017

Dailymail – Chile denies house arrest for jailed Mapuche hunger strikers – 29 September 2017

RT – Police clash with Mapuche protestors in Chilean capital – 26 September 2017

Lavanguardia – Mapuche leader arrested in Chile and five villagers killed by truck burning – 24 September 2017

Week 4 of Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike

By: Yamillet Brizuela
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RAMALLAH, West Bank – May 14, 2017 marked the 28th day of the mass hunger strike by approximately 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons to protest their administrative detention. This hunger strike started on April 17, 2017, with hopes of drawing international attention to the plight of prisoners. They aim to put pressure on Israeli authorities to spur a change in policy.

About 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are on their 4th week of a hunger strike. Photo Courtesy of Reuters.

The prisoners’ demands involve improvements to prison living condition which they believe, currently, violate basic human rights. They also denounced the torture, ill-treatment, and medical negligence of them by Israeli authorities. The Palestinian prisoners further denounced Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows for internment without trial or charge for six-month intervals that can be renewed indefinitely.

Other demands include: more family visits, education options, and public telephones, and are protesting unfair trials, detention of children, medical negligence, and solitary confinement.

Having lived off only salt water and now entering the 4th week of the hunger strike, a conversation of force-feeding the prisoners has arisen. Force-feeding violates international human rights standards.

Under international human rights law, prisoners must be guaranteed basic human rights, which include the right to maintain a family life and freedom from torture and other forms of CIDT, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has called on Israel to ensure that prisoners on hunger strikes are not subjected to force-feeding or other medical treatment against their will, as it could amount to torture.

However, without negotiations with prisoners by the Israeli authorities, it is highly likely that prisoners would suffer permanent health damage and possible death.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – A Timeline of Palestinian Mass Hunger Strikes in Israel – 12 May 2017

Aljazeera – Palestinian Shot Dead by Israeli Forces in Nabi Saleh – 12 May 2017

Aljazeera – Palestinian Hunger Strike Highlights Medical Neglect – 12 May 2017

Daily Times – Palestinian Hunger Strikes- 13 May 2017

Ma’an News Agency – Palestinian Prisoners Enter 27th Day of Mass Hunger Strike – 13 May 2017

Ma’an News Agency – Funeral Held for Palestinian Killed by Israeli Forces During Solidarity March- 12 May 2017

Palestine News Network- Israeli Doctors Reject Force-Feeding Prisoners on Hunger Strike – 10 May 2017

United Nations Expert Addresses Concerns Over Health Problems Faced By Iranian Prisoners Engaged in Prolonged Hunger Strikes

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran — A United Nations expert on Iranian human rights issued a warning regarding the health risks faced by prisoners of conscience who have been on a prolonged hunger strike protesting their legality of their detention.

Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the health problems faced by inmates who are engaged in prolonged hunger strikes (Photo courtesy of U.N. News Center)

The United Nations expert, Ms. Asma Jahangir, reported that in recent weeks, at least eight prisoners of conscience have been “on life-threatening hunger strikes.” She called upon Iranian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release [prisoners] who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted for exercising their rights.”

Among the prisoners of conscience is Mr. Arash Sadeghi, who ended his three-and-a-half month hunger strike last week after his spouse was released from prison on bail. Ms. Jahangir reported that the spouses are “human rights defenders who have been imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.” She stated that Mr. Sadeghi is being kept in his cell and denied treatment at a specialized medical facility despite his critical health. She called upon Iranian authorities to comply with international human rights standards and medical ethics.

Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the continued detention of Iranian human rights defenders who have been “tried [based on] vaguely defined offenses and heavily sentenced following trials marred with due process violations.” She indicated that such prisoners have no alternatives other than “to put their life at risk to contest the legality of their detention.”

Mr. Ali Shariati, another prisoner, has been on a hunger strike since October 31, 2016. He was sentenced to five years in prison for peaceful activism, which included a “non-violent protest to condemn acid attacks against women in Iran.” Ms. Jahangir expressed concern over the health issues faced by Mr. Saeed Shirzad, a children’s rights activist who has been on a hunger strike since December 7, 2016, and Mr. Mohammed Ali Taheri, who cannot be located after starting a hunger strike on September 28, 2016 and being transported to a military hospital in October 2016. A further prisoner, Mr. Hassan Rastegari Majd, is reportedly being held in solitary confinement as retaliation for undertaking an extensive hunger strike.

For more information, please see:

Fox News—UN flags risks faced by prisoners on hunger strikes in Iran—9 January 2017

National Council of Resistance of Iran—“Prisoners of Conscience at Risk of Dying …” – United Nations Expert Warns—9 January 2017

United Nations News Center—Iran: UN rights expert warns prisoners of conscience at risk of death after prolonged hunger strike—9 January 2017

Sputnik—UN Concerned Over Hunger Strikes of Iran ‘Prisoners of Conscience’—9 January 2017

Jurist—UN rights expert condemns Iran for continued imprisonment of activists on hunger strike—9 January 2017

Appeal Against Israeli Force-Feeding Law Rejected

by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel — On Sunday, September 11th, the Israel Supreme Court rejected the Israeli Medical Association’s appeal on the force-feeding law that had been passed in July 2015.

Photo of Palestinian prisoners (Photo courtesy of Middle East Monitor)

Through the appeal, the Israel Supreme Court authorized force-feeding prisoners who are on a hunger strike. The court held that the law is constitutional and “legal under Israeli and international law.” The judges stated that saving lives “remain a priority” as the state is “responsible for the lives of its prisoners.”

The Assembly of Palestinian Doctors in Europe issued a statement declaring that the force-feeding law amounts to a “legitimization of murder.” The Assembly asserted that the law violates the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Malta 1991, which states “forcible feeding is never ethically acceptable.” It further stated that force-feeding violates the 1975 World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo, which provides that “force-feeding is a crime and form of torture.” The statement further drew attention to the potential risk of death involved with force-feeding, noting that several Palestinian prisoners had lost their lives as a result of this practice. The Assembly also urged international health institutions and human rights organizations, such as the United Nations, Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders, to condemn the decision and pressure the government to repeal the law.

In recent years, numerous Palestinians initiated collective and individual hunger strikes. Some obtained an early release while others secured better incarceration conditions provided that they end their strike.

In July 2015, Israeli legislators voted to allow the force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners. The reasoning behind this legislation was to prevent Palestinian detainees from using fasting as a means of securing an early release from prison. Mr. Yoel Hadar, a legal adviser to the Ministry of Public Security, had stated that force-feeding would only be used in extreme cases and that Israeli doctors would not be compelled to comply. The law requires the prison commissioner to request the court’s permission to force-feed a prisoner “if a doctor recommends doing so,” and if there is an “imminent danger of severe deterioration in the prisoner’s health.” The law further stipulates that prison officials are allowed to use “reasonable force.”

Upon its passage, several human rights organizations had condemned the law. Palestinian prisoner rights activists declared that the law robbed detainees of their only means to protest incarceration. The Israeli Medical Association identified the move as “torture,” stating that force-feeding could not be accomplished without endangering the prisoner and causing suffering. United Nations officials also condemned the law, declaring that hunger strikes were a “non- violent form of protest used by individuals who have exhausted other forms of protest to highlight the seriousness of their situations.” The Ministry had stated that the decision was based on humanitarian concerns of preventing prisoners from harming themselves and pressuring Israeli authorities.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Eye — Israel court rejects appeal on force-feeding hunger strikers — 12 September 2016

AlJazeera — Israel rejects appeal against force-feeding prisoners — 11 September 2016

Palestine News Network — Israeli force-feeding law incitement to murder — 14 September 2016

Middle East Monitor — Israeli doctors urged to refuse force-feeding of hunger-strikers — 14 September 2016

The New York Times — Israel Allows Hunger-Striking Prisoners to Be Force-Fed — 30 July 2015

Palestinian Prisoners Threaten to Renew Hunger Strike

By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEL AVIV, Israel–Palestinian prisoners in Israel threatened to resume a hunger strike on Sunday.  They claim that Israeli prison authorities have reneged on an agreement to make changes to their current prison policies.

Prison protesters
Palestinian protesters gathered in support of prisoners who went on hunger strike. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

On April 17, about 1,600 prisoners launched a massive  hunger strike in efforts to obtain improvements to their conditions, and an end to certain practices such as limited visitation rights, and solitary confinement.  The original hunger strike ended on May 14, when Palestinian prisoners were promised a package of measures in exchange for ending their hunger strike, and also to not engage in militant activity. In return, Israel promised the prisoners visitation from relatives in Gaza, and to also transfer detainees out of solitary confinement. Also part of the agreement was Israel’s promise to not extend its program of administrative detention, where suspects could be held without charge for renewable periods of up to six months.

The Palestinian Minister of Prisoner Affairs, Issa Qaraqaa, said that Israel failed to keep its promise. At a press conference in Ramallah, Qaraqaa stated that “Israel has begun to violate the deal it signed with the prisoners, and within ten days after announcing the end of the strike, Israel renewed administrative detention orders for approximately 30 prisoners.” Qaraqaa also said that he does not believe Israel that would grant visitation rights to prisoners. “So far, we don’t know if Israel will even allow families of prisoners from Gaza to visit their imprisoned relatives,” he claimed.

An Israeli defense official, who preferred to remain anonymous, refuted Qaraqaa’s claims. The official said that “as of the end of last week, three administrative detention orders were renewed.” The official also stated that Israel is currently working towards enabling visitation between Palestinian prisoners and their family members.  But it is a process that “would take some time,” however, because it “involves many different bodies.”

In his press conference in Ramallah, Qaraqaa discussed the situations of two prisoners, Mahmud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi, who are currently on extended hunger strikes.  Sarsak, a recognized prisoner of war from Gaza, began his hunger strike on March 23. He went without food for 53 days until May 14, when he temporarily ceased his hunger strike after the agreement was signed. He resumed with his strike the following day.  Rikhawi wants the prison authority to deliver his medical file before he appears in front of a prison release committee so that his release may be expedited.  Qaraqaa stated that “both prisoners are currently on the verge of a coma and have a low heart rate.”

Sivan Weizman, an Israeli Prison Service spokeswoman, said the two were under medical supervision in Ramle Prison, located near Tel Aviv.   Should further care prove necessary, they will be transferred to a nearby hospital.

For further information, please see:

The National — Palestinian Prisoners Threaten New Hunger Strike — 4 June 2012

Al Jazeera — Jailed Palestinians Warn of New Hunger Strike — 3 June 2012

The Daily Star — Palestinians Threaten to Relaunch Prisoner Hunger Strike — 3 June 2012

The Jerusalem Post — Palestinian Prisoners Threaten to Strike Again — 3 June 2012

Thousands Protest in Gaza and West Bank in Support of Hunger Striker

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza–Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have rallied in support of Khader Adnan, who is in the midst of a 60-plus day hunger strike to protest against his detention by Israel. Adnan, 33, has been refusing to eat since 18 December 2011 following his arrest on 17 December 2011 in the occupied West Bank. He has been held under “administrative detention,” which means that Israel can detain him indefinitely without trial or charge.

Khader Adnan's daughter, Maali, takes part in a protest for her father. (Photo Courtesy of AFP)

Adnan is accused of being the spokesman of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, a right group that advocates the destruction of the state of Israel. It has not been confirmed that he was involved at all in any attacks but his family stated that he remains a member. He owns a bakery and a fruit and vegetable shop in his West Bank village of Arabeh. Adnan is married with two children and his wife, Randa, is expecting a third child.

On Saturday 18 February 2012, Adnan’s lawyers appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court, demanding to be released. To support his case, Adnan is fighting the “administrative detention” policy. Adnan’s doctors have warned him numerous times that the 33-year-old might die soon due to lack of nourishment. One of Adnan’s lawyers, Mahmoud Hassan, shared these words with Ahram concerning the situation.

“We are hoping that the Supreme Court hears this case urgently. He could die before the court hear happens.”

The court has not yet set a date for the hearing. Hassan has said that in previous cases, the high court at times reduced the sentence of administrative detainees on appeal, but rarely ordered the detainees freed outright. The hunger strike has turned Adnan into a Palestinian hero, while he is being kept held under guard in a northern Israeli hospital and Israeli officials are monitoring his condition. According to the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights on Wednesday 15 February 2012, he is taking liquid fusions of salts, glucose, and minerals and a team of doctors is overseeing his medical care. Although his care is being carefully monitored, the Physicians for Human Rights believe that even ending the strike could be detrimental for Adnan’s health.

“Mr. Khader Adnan is in immediate danger of death. There is a risk to his health even if he starts eating now because his system has got used to not having any food at all.”

According to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights group, Israel had 307 Palestinians under administrative detention at the end of 2011. The group stated that this was a 40% increase in the number of detentions from 2010. According to The Physician for Human Rights, since the beginning of the hunger strike, Adnan has lost some 60 pounds, his hair has begun to fall out, and his muscles have atrophied.

Adnan is currently serving four months in administrative detention. Israeli military judges have the authority to imprison defendants for up to six months at a time, with the possibility of renewing the detention order repeatedly. Defendants and their lawyers are not shown the alleged evidence against them. An Israeli military judge rejected an earlier appeal by Adnan last week, stating that he reviewed the evidence and found the sentence to be fair.

While Adnan sits in detention, thousands gathered in the Gaza Strip to support him. Activists from main political factions joined forces in a rare display of Palestinian unity.

“We are all Khader Adnan,” the crowds chanted to let their fellow Palestinian know that he is not alone. According to the Palestinian Authority, at least 5,000 people took to the streets of Gaza, waving a mix of black Jihad flags, green flags to support Hamas, and yellow flags to support the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas. Witnesses have stated that hundreds also gathered in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinian officials stated that many other prisoners in Israeli jails had begun hunger strikes to support Adnan. Hassan Salama was among those participating, a senior armed commander of Hamas who is serving life terms for organizing and implementing suicide bombings against Israelis. Hunger strikes is nothing new for Palestinians, who have been using them before to try and fester attention of the treatment in the region and to denounce the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

But the protests and group hunger strikes have never lasted this long as they have for Adnan. The amount of attention from Adnan’s hunger strike has already become a rallying cry for Palestinians, as protesters have also launched a social media campaign to shed light on Israel’s administrative detentions. According to CNN, Palestinian legislator and human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti shared these words in a recent West Bank rally.

“This is a violation of every aspect of human rights. What Khader Adnan is doing today is to show the will of freedom even if it means the loss of life.”

 

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – Lawyer of Palestinian Hunger Strike Files Appeal – 18 February 2012

Al-Jazeera – Thousands Rally For West Bank Hunger Striker – 18 February 2012

CNN – Palestinian’s Hunger Strike Puts Spotlight on Israeli Detentions – 18 February 2012

NYT – Palestinian’s Trial Shines Light on Military Justice – 18 February 2012

BBC – Palestinians Rally in Support of Hunger Strike Prisoner – 17 February 2012

The Guardian – Palestinian Hunger Striker Khader Adnan ‘Near Death’ In Israel – 16 February 2012

 

 

 

Moscow Protests For Jailed Opposition Leader Pass Peacefully

By Terance Walsh
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

MOSCOW, Russia —  Protests over the jailing of Russian activist Sergei Udaltsov took place in Moscow today.  The protests were not sanctioned but were smaller than expected and passed without incident, perhaps signaling a cooling of political unrest following teeming protests in Russia last month.  About two hundred Russians participated in the protests although two thousand indicated their intention to attend on social media outlets.

A demonstrator raises a picture of Sergei Udaltsov, a jailed opposition leader in Russia. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

The jailed activist, Udaltsov, is the leader of the socialist party Left Front.  He has been arrested over a dozen times but has failed to attract any attention outside a small core of supporters.  Udaltsov was arrested on December 5th upon allegations of jaywalking and has been in prison ever since.  Twice during his stay in prison Udaltsov has been admitted to the hospital for health problems caused by his hunger strike.

City officials in Moscow had denied the protestors a permit to gather, but Udaltsov’s wife, Anastasia Udaltsov, encouraged people to show up in Moscow’s Pushkin Square for the rally anyway.

There was a worry that the demonstrations would turn violent.  A source in the Moscow police department said if the protestors did not comply with prescribed meeting formats the police would intervene.  “Any attempts to abuse the format of the meeting will be viewed as violations, which the Moscow police must stop in strict compliance with the law,” he said.

Leaders of the gathering told protestors not to bring placards, chant slogans, or confront the police.  Instead participants brought photographs of Udalstov or simply stood silently on the steps of the monument.  A few people chanted simple phrases like “freedom for political prisoners” or used mega-phones to demand Udaltsov’s release.  Protestors were relieved when the demonstration went off without a single recorded arrest.

The Udalstov protests are the latest in a series of the largest protests Russia has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The underlying thrust of the protests has been the perceived election fraud that occurred in the December 5th parliamentary elections.

Authorities’ response to the Udaltsov protests were soft, likely as a result of the lessons they learned after early protests resulted in violence and greater turnout.  The protests on December 5th were broken up and opposition leaders were jailed.  A few days later the crowd swelled to about 40,000 in Bolotnaya Square.  On December 24th the protests surged further to a crowd of 80,000 people.

Prime minister Vladimir Putin denied the protestors’ demands for a re-run of the parliamentary elections, but did take a conciliatory turn and said he would be willing to sit down with opposition.  His offer, however, was without substance as he followed his offer to meet with opposition by remarking that there was no opposition.  “Is there a common platform? No. Who is there to talk to?” he said.

Assistant to a law maker who was behind the demonstration Alexei Sakhnin, 30, said the protests were a statement to authorities that the political unrest was not yet ready to subside.

“The regime wants to clear the movement and divide it up the middle between radicals and moderates — these are their definitions of course — to show that there are people who will never be included at the negotiating table,” said Mr. Sakhnin, who carried his 4½-year-old son to the rally on his shoulders.  “That would of course be the death of the movement.”

Anti-corruption protestor Aleksei Navalny said that if violence broke out and riots took place in the street then it would be the judge that presided over Udaltsov’s case who would be to blame.  Udaltsov also received support from television host Tina Kandelaki, who is known to have connections with the Kremlin.  She wrote an open letter on Thursday calling for his release.

Udaltsov, in a speech delivered from his hospital bed that was projected onto large screens, channeled the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  He dubbed the protestors the “99 percent” who were being ruled and oppressed by the corrupt “1 percent” of bureaucrats and oligarchs.  He remains in the hospital due to health concerns following his hunger strike.

For more information please see:

CBC News — Moscow Anti-government Protests Avoid Crackdown — 29 December 2011

The Guardian — Protests for Jailed Activist Passes Off Peacefully — 29 December 2011

NY Times — Russians Rally for Sergei Udaltsov — 29 December 2011

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — Opposition Activist Rally in Central Moscow — 29 December 2011

Washington Post — Several Hundred Demonstrators in Moscow Demand Release of Opposition Activist — 29 December 2011

Kyiv Post — Police to Stop Opposition Action in Moscow — 28 December 2011

According To Justice Minister, Chilean Prison Conditions “Subhuman”

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Recent fire at a Chilean prison kills 81 prisoners (photo courtesy of http://morrisonworldnews.com)
A recent fire at a Chilean prison which killed 81 prisoners (photo courtesy of http://morrisonworldnews.com)

SANTIAGO, Chile – Monday, Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes called the overcrowding of Chilean prisons, which lead to the deadliest prison fire in the country’s history, “subhuman.”  Overcrowding in penitentiaries was officially recognized as a primary cause of last Wednesday’s fire that burned part of the capital’s San Miguel Prison and killed 81 prisoners.

The San Miguel Prison currently houses approximately 1,900 people, double its intended capacity.  This overcrowding can be seen in almost every jail in Chile.  Chile’s prison population totals approximately 54,000 people; however, it’s  infrastructure only has the capacity for 34,000 people.

Bulnes was quoted on a Chilean television network as saying, “of course we need more jails, because it would allow us to separate and rehabilitate. With rates of overcrowding like this, conditions are subhuman, an indignity.”  He also admitted the need to purge the Gendarmeria, the Chilean prison service, in response to accusations by inmates’ families that guards regularly accept bribes to bring drugs, cell phones and other prohibited items into the prisons.

Jaime Pincheira, the prison warden Calama, a city in Northern Chile, has denied reports that 500 inmates began a hunger strike Sunday in solidarity with the families of the San Miguel victims.  Pincheira told local reporters that only 200 of the prisoners there are fasting, some 40 percent of the prison population.

In a report on prison conditions last year, Supreme Court attorney Monica Maldonado found that some prisons have potable water only a couple of hours a day, a hundred prisoners share one usually infested toilet and the population in some jails easily doubles their capacity.

President Sebastian Pinera has responded to the recent criticisms and deaths by announcing a $460 million plan to improve conditions for Chile’s prisoners. The plan includes purchasing prefabricated modular prisons for minimum-security inmates to help reduce overcrowding in the country’s prisons.

The courts are currently investigating claims that prison police in San Miguel waited an hour before calling the fire department while 81 inmates suffered burns and smoke inhalation.

For more information, please see:

Global Post – The Story Behind Chile’s Prison Fire – 15 December 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Chilean Official: Prison Inmates “in Subhuman Conditions” – 13 December 2010

Associated Press – New unrest at Chile prison where 81 inmates died – 11 December 2010

33 Chilean Women Stage Hunger Strike To Demand Jobs

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

Chilean Women Stage Hunger Strike in Mind (photo courtesy of www.calgaryherald.com)
Chilean Women Stage Hunger Strike in Mine (photo courtesy of www.calgaryherald.com)

SANTIAGO, Chile – A group of 33 women have banded together in a Chilean mine 3,000 feet underground to protest the end of a program which, at one time, provided thousands of people with jobs. 

In February, an earthquake devastated Chile.  As a result, the Chilean government created a Military Job Corps program which put people to work clearing debris and constructing emergency housing, amongst other things.

In September, the government failed to extend the program, forcing –by some accounts– 12,000 people out of work, adding additional stress on those who had already lost their homes and livelihoods to the earthquake. 

In an interview with the Santiago Times, protest spokesperson Ivania Anabalón stated that Chileans have “tried several actions at all levels [since September] and cannot make the government understand that all we need is a source of work.”  Anabalón also stated that “[t]he governor wouldn’t even look at us.”

Reports from several news agencies indicate the women have hundreds of supporters and sympathizers protesting and rallying outside the mine, which was operating as a tourist attraction when the women occupied the coal mine.  Javier Matamala, who is currently in charge of the mine, has urged all parties involved to end the protest quickly and peacefully “to avoid damages to this historic location.”

The women sent an open letter to the Piñera Administration, referring to the recent effort to rescue 33 trapped miners in the north of the country. They ask the government to use that same kind of effort to provide assistance for the thousands of Chileans who have lost their jobs and homes due to the earthquake and the failure to reauthorize the jobs bill.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter urged the 33 women on hunger strike to reconsider their protest and said they were “lucky” to have had jobs for a few months.  The governor of the Concepción region, where the mine is located, told Radio Cooperativa that the women’s protest was being orchestrated by Lota municipal chief of staff Vasili Carrillo, a one-time guerrilla who battled the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

For more information, please see:

Epoch Times – Women Stage Hunger Strike in Chilean Mine – 18 November 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Chilean Women Mount Hunger Strike to Demand Jobs – 18 November 2010

Hispanically Speaking News – 33 Chilean Women Lock Themselves in 9,000 Feet Deep Mine – 16 November 2010

Mapuche Prisoners End Hunger Strike

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

Chileans Protest Detainment of Mapuche Prisoners (photo courtesy of revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com)
Chileans Protest Detainment of Mapuche Prisoners (photo courtesy of revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com)

 SANTIAGO, Chile – Close to thirty jailed Mapuche Indians have ended a hunger strike that lasted almost three months.  The strike was in response to a dictator-era anti-terror law that allows the government to hold prisoners for up to two years without formal charges and permits citizens to be tried by military tribunals.

Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop in charge of mediating the situation, claims that the Mapuche peoples and the Chilean government have reached an agreement after representatives for the two sides met on two separate occasions. 

The government has proactively sought to reform the archaic anti-terror law and, in addition to the legal reform, has decided to withdraw the charges against the Mapuche under the anti-terror law. 

The news was met with great joy by family members of the imprisoned Indians.  However, the Mapuche hunger-strikers will not be completelyacquitted as they will still be charged with crimes under the common criminal code, albeit lesser ones.  

An attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike had failed recently when the Indians were unable to secure assurances that the anti-terror law would not be applied in their cases.  However, a meeting Thursday between several relatives of the jailed Mapuches and Chilean Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter at La Moneda presidential palace facilitated the resumption of the talks.

In addition to demanding the end of the anti-terror law, the hunger strikers are calling for the demilitarization of the poor southern region of Araucania, which is home 650,000 Mapuche people.

There are ten Mapuche prisoners who have refused to end their hunger strike.  Undersecretary of the Presidency Claudio Alvarado, who represented the government in talks with the prisoners’ family, said he hopes that the rest of the prisoners will follow suit and end their strikes soon.

The Mapuche hunger strike is the latest scuffle between the indigenous peoples and the Chilean government in a long and sometimes violent campaign by members of the Mapuche for the return of their lands to alleviate their poverty.

The Mapuche Indians are one of Chile’s original peoples, but were pushed into the country’s south only to lose those lands later to timber companies and other wealthy landowners.

For more information, please see:

Inside Costa Rica – Chile: End of Mapuche Hunger Strike – 3 October 2010

Associated Press – Chilean Archbishop: Most Mapuche prisoners end hunger strike after lengthy negotiations – 2 October 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Mapuches End Hunger Strike after Agreement with Chile Government – 2 October 2010

Chilean Lawmakers Join Mapuche Hunger Strike

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – Several Chilean lawmakers have joined the indigenous Mapuche-lead hunger strike against dictatorship-era terror laws. Tucapel Jimenez, Hugo Gutierrez, Sergio Aguilo and Manuel Monsalve, who belong to a human rights commission in the lower house of the Chilean Congress, have demanded that President Sebastian Piñera begin negotiations with the inmates.

The Chilean government has been critical of the congressmen’s actions, calling them “irresponsible and populist.”  During a recent visit to the Arica-Parinacota region of Chile, President Piñera added that he expected the lawmakers’ behavior to be “as deputies of the Republic, with responsibility” and to take measures to solve the problem instead of making it worse.

The four congressmen involved in the hunger-strike visited several Mapuche prisoners in Temuco jail. When they refused to leave, the prison guards apparently removed the legislators forcefully. 

Commenting on the removal, Congressman Aguilo said that“[w]e left a meeting we were having with the (Mapuches); we were tricked, they told us that it was to talk about a practical matter and there they told us that we would be forced to leave. They didn’t beat us, but in the scuffle my glasses were broken.”

Congressman Gutierrez said that “[t]his is the new government’s way and I think it’s a clear sign that there’s no form of dialogue here. What we experienced in one brief moment, the Mapuches have experienced historically, and I hope the government stops repressing people.”

After being removed from the facility for trying to grab onto some of the prison’s bars, the congressmen traveled to the building of the Unitary Workers’ Central and continued to vocalize the strike.

This sort of internal pressure appears to be effective to a small extent. 

Piñera recently proposed legislation that would effectively end the portion of the disputed law that allows civilians and minors to be tried by military commission.  While Piñera has taken this small step, his government has not engaged in negotiation with the Mapuche prisoners, nor does it appear that the government is willing to consider that option.

Piñera has, however, called on the Roman Catholic Church to mediate the dispute between the Mapuche and the Chilean government.

For more information, please see:

People Daily – Chilean President Criticizes Lawmakers on Strike Supporting Indigenous Mapuche – 11 September 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – Politicians who Joined Inmates’ Hunger Strike Ejected from Chile Prison – 10 September 2010

BBC – Chilean MPs Join Hunger Protest by Indigenous Detainees – 9 September 2010

Reuters – Chilean Lawmakers Join Indigenous Hunger Strike – 9 September 2010

Indigenous Prisoners Seek Resolution To Hunger Strike

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

People Protest Treatment of Mapuche Prisoners (Photo courtesy of Freedom to all mapuche political prisoners)
People Protest Treatment of Mapuche Prisoners (Photo courtesy of Freedom to all mapuche political prisoners)

 SANTIAGO, Chile – Chilean President Sebastián Piñera recently called for an end to an ongoing hunger strike by indigenous Mapuche inmates.  The Mapuche political prisoners are protesting a Pinochet-era anti-terror law that was used to convict them.

The Mapuche people have clashed with the Chilean government and farmers for years over ancestral lands in the southern part of the country.

The anti-terror law, which has been widely criticized by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, was used to label the inmates “terrorists” based on certain actions, such as setting timber shipments on fire.  The law also allows government witnesses to conceal their identities at trial and permits defendants to be tried by military commissions.

The hunger strike began in July with five prisoners and has since grown to include 34 inmates in various jails throughout Chile.  Many of the prisoners have lost up to 40 pounds during the hunger strike and are experiencing dizziness and low blood pressure. 

Last month, the families of the Mapuche prisoners went to Santiago, the capital, to denounce irregularities in their trials and push for dialogue with the authorities. 

A spokesperson for the Mapuche families stated that the prisoners were at a critical stage in the hunger strike and continue losing muscle tissue and experiencing vital organ failure.

President Piñera said that his government will send two bills to Congress next week to reform anti-terror legislation and the military justice system in an effort to end the strike.  He added, “I want to ask all of those worried about the health of the protesters to help us end this hunger strike.”

The police and military have been accused by human rights groups of using excessive force against the Mapuches in the past.  But the indigenous peoples have come under fire for sometimes violent protests where they have burned crops and the trucks and machinery of forestry companies.

The Mapuches lost their lands to the newly formed states of Argentina and Chile in the early 19th century after having fended off the Spanish conquistadores for centuries.  The indigenous peoples ancestral territory spanned most of the south of Chile and crossed over into Argentina. 

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Chile Wants to End Hunger Strike over Terror Laws – 3 September 2010

The Argentine Independent – Chile: Health of Mapuches on Hunger Strike Worsens – 2 September 2010

IPS – Mapuche Prisoners on Hunger Strike to Demand Talks – 12 August 2010

Intercontinental Cry – Mapuche on Hunger Strike over Chile’s Militancy – 4 August 2010

Bolivian City Held Hostage by Protesters

By R. Renee Yaworsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

Buses held up at a roadblock.  Photo courtesy of AFP.
Buses held up at a roadblock. Photo courtesy of AFP.

POTOSI, Bolivia—Thousands of protesters in Bolivia have been holding an entire city hostage for over 10 days.  The only roads leading out of the city have been blocked by protesters who have also disrupted the rail line to Chile and begun a hunger strike.

Six thousand miners in Potosi, Bolivia, have been protesting President Morales’ policies, accusing him of neglecting impoverished citizens.  The protesters have demanded more regional investment, the creation of a new cement factory, the settlement of land disputes, and a bigger airport.  They also want certain mines to be reopened that officials have closed.

“We’re taking this to the bitter end,” one hunger striker said.  Potosi Town Council president Remberto Gareca told AFP, “This strike . . . is the people’s answer to the lies of the government.”

The southern mining city has been barricaded by roadblocks constructed of boulders, virtually holding numerous citizens and tourists hostage, unable to leave.  Over 100 foreign tourists, mostly Europeans, are still trapped and waiting to be set free.  Also held captive are about 500 Bolivians.  Potosi is a city of about 200,000 people, all of whom are in danger of being affected.

One thousand people have been stranded a couple miles north of Potosi for over a week.  One of these told AFP, “We’re cold, hungry and afraid.”  Protesters were holding dynamite to intimidate those held captive, saying they would make an explosion if anyone tried to escape.

The blockade has already sparked a shortage of food in the city.  There are concerns about tourists’ health, as Potosi has a high altitude and may cause some people to get ill.  Older people and those with existing health problems are the most at-risk.

There have been reports that protesters have threatened to blow up any bus that attempted to leave the city.  On Friday, protesters piled rocks on a local airport runway to prevent a plane from landing to aid tourists.

“Our rules are tough here,” one protester explained.  “We don’t let any vehicle through.  There are 6,000 of us.  We’re organized.”

The governor of the local district has been supportive of the protesters, even participating in the recent hunger strike.  Also participating are many regional officials, union and farm leaders.  As of yet, the Bolivian government has not moved to amend the situation.

For more information, please see:

ABC – Tourists trapped in blockaded city – 8 August 2010

AP – Protest traps tourists in Bolivian highland city – 7 August 2010

AFP – Bolivians on hunger strike, cut rail links to Chile – 7 August 2010