Congress will discuss a bill to release prisoners linked to the social outbreak that started in 2019. Proponents claim these are political prisoners, but the Human Rights Watch chief disagrees. The president, meanwhile, vowed to fight the bill.
As Congress is debating a bill to release the last prisoners detained during the social outbreak, a debate on the ‘political prisoner’ category has emerged.
Left-wing Senators Juan Ignacio Latorre, Isabell Allende, Adriana Muñoz and Alejandro Navarro, and Christian Democrat Yasna Provoste, who’s also the Senate president, are promoting a bill under which protesters detained during the social outbreak that started in 2019 would be released for humanitarian reasons.
Some sectors claim these are political prisoners. Christian Democrat Francisco Huenchumilla, who’s president of the Senate’s security committee, said they were detained “during a political process, therefore they are political prisoners, product of the social and political outbreak that took place in October .”
But Human Rights Watch director José Miguel Vivanco told CNN Chile that political prisoners are “people persecuted for their ideas, for their opinions, simply for trying to promote different ideals than the official one, like for example what happens in Cuba.” He added, “I don’t think there are political prisoners in Chile.”
Yet, human rights expert Claudio Nash told Chile Today that it’s not so much about definitions. Rather, “the issue is that the state, by persecuting those who rebelled against the model from October 18 on, has been discriminatory against them, and their rights to physical integrity and personal freedom have been gravely violated.”
He added, “therefore it is the very state that needs to put an end to this persecution, through any mechanism that the rule of law may confer.”
The Numbers of the Bill
Generally approved on May 26, the bill was presented in December last year already. The Senate’s security committee had approved it in a 3:2 vote. President Sebastián Piñera, however, vowed to veto any potential legislative approval and not sign the bill into law.
El Dínamo reported that 26 people were still in preventive custody by January for looting, aggressions toward the police, or damage to public infrastructure. Of these, 15 had been sentenced, one was released, and 10 are awaiting trial – seven in prison and three under house arrest.
A Senate release said 28,210 were estimated to have been detained during protests between October 19 and December 6, 2019, although real numbers are unavailable.
By October last year, 648 were still in custody while 725 had been convicted, mostly for “disorder” which is a “very broad category … [that] criminalized protest,” according to the release.
Javiera is from Santiago de Chile, she is studying journalism at Universidad de Chile, since 2017 and doing her internship at Chile Today.