A Mapuche leader has been detained on charges since August 2022. Anonymous witnesses are testifying against him, and the sentence sought is long. For these and other reasons, some argue that his treatment violates international law.
Hector Llaitul, a key figure of Mapuche organization Coordinadora Arauco-Malleco (CAM), was detained in August 2022 on five charges: incitement, violence in violation of the state security law, theft, attack against authority, and usurpation. State prosecutors have requested a 25-year prison sentence for the Mapuche leader.
Regional prosecutor of La Araucanía, Roberto Garrido, said “the total number of crimes attributed is related to the state security law, crimes of theft and also attacks against Chilean police officials. For each of the crimes attributed, the Public Ministry has requested a penalty, which in terms of custodial sentences reach 25 years.”
The prosecutor has the testimony of more than 70 witnesses and 20 experts and more than 200 pieces of material evidence and documents.
Among the 70, are five anonymous witnesses, who were originally slated to be identified. Thus, in April, the trial judge ordered the prosecutor’s office to identify the five, on the ground that it was illegal to withhold their identities from the defense, 24 Horas reported. In June, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the names should not be disclosed to protect the five.
The Mapuche leader has been in preventive detention since August 2022. El Ciudadano reported that the relatives of Mapuche political prisoners from the Penitentiary Compliance Center (CCP) in BioBío have complained that guards had prohibited the entry of Mapuche women with traditional dress in Concepción prison. Officials in charge of registering visits allegedly demanded that Mapuche women take off their traditional dress and wear only western clothing in order to enter and see their relatives, according to El Ciudadano. Officials also reportedly prohibited Mapuche visitors from bringing in sacred elements and natural food instead of processed food. Such actions have been challenged as racist harassment, and violations of international law. For example, the prohibition against traditional clothing is said to be a violation of Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Chile ratified in 2008.
The Ethics Commission Against Torture issued a public letter addressing President Gabriel Boric’s administration. The letter criticized the arrest of Llaitul and condemned his persecution and imprisonment, Diario UChile reported.
The letter read “the struggle of the Mapuche communities is not individual, it is a plural, collective demand of a people that lives the consequences of the application of decree 701 that for almost 50 years has turned a fertile land in a territory depredated by forestry, with water scarcity and with the native forest destroyed”.
The commission accused the government of punishing the Mapuche leader for not attending to the “pseudo-dialogue” that he has been summoned to, and seeking to sentence him to a long prison term for alleged crimes that by common law would not allow even a day in jail. The commission also accused the state of practicing “preventive criminalization” on Llaitul.
“We aspire that justice be the basis of peace in the area and that the militarization and criminalization of the demands of the Mapuche people will end,” the letter concluded.
Chongyang Zhang is pursuing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s program in journalism, media and globalisation. His interest lies in the relations among the United States, Latin America and China. He is currently doing an exchange semester at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.