Mapuche protest in Santiago ends in repression

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th January, around 200 demonstrators from the indigenous Mapuche community took to the streets of the Chilean capital Santiago to demand the release of political prisoners and to protest against ongoing repression and criminalisation of indigenous communities and leaders. The protestors called for the release of their spiritual leader Francisca Linconao who is accused of arson leading to the death of an elderly landowning couple in 2013. The protestors claim her detention is part of a tactic to criminalise the struggle by Mapuche communities to safeguard or recover their ancestral lands, which are usually taken by forestry companies. Although the march on the capital began peacefully, by the evening scuffles broke out between activists and riot police. Water cannon were used to disperse demonstrators and many demonstrators were detained.

The Mapuche are Chile's largest indigenous group, numbering approximately 700,000 out of 16 million Chileans. Land conflicts involving this minority are reported to be on the rise in Chile as well as Argentina. In the case of Chile, the ongoing conflicts have revived debate about the current Anti-Terrorism Law, a remnant of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (with amendments introduced in 1991 and 2010). The repeated use of this law against Mapuche communities over the years was condemned as "discriminatory" by the UN in 2013, and again by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014.

The Anti-Terrorism Law allows the authorities to arrest suspects and keep them detained until trial, to convict them on the grounds of anonymous testimony, and to increase penalties for their crimes. According to Julio Cortés, a lawyer with the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH),

"the legislation must be thoroughly revised, with the understanding that there are international instruments regarding the fight against terrorism, but within a human rights framework [...] In practice, although people are acquitted in most cases, the Anti-Terrorism Law allows for fairly long pre-trial detention and does not allow defense lawyers to access information, among other types of violations."