A trial that could put ten indigenous Mapuche people behind bars for up to 40 years each on terrorism charges begins Tuesday in the Chilean Court on Constitutional Rights.
Indigenous leaders are describing the trial – set to take place in the municipality of Victoria – as a set-up.
The ten men are charged with “robbery with intimidation of a terrorist nature, terrorist arson attacks and illegal association with terrorist organisations.”
Two of the accused are minors, Patricio Queipul and Luis Marileo. Police have sought Queipul since he was 11. For his part, Marileo participated in two hunger strikes demanding respect for the rights of the Mapuche children.
Lawyers for both minors requested to start a separate process to review their situation. The move is also to prevent the minors to be tried under Anti-Terrorism Law.
The Mapuche members are being tried for acts that occurred in October 2009. It was after an alleged attack in the Chilean commune of Victoria. The local authorities are asking for the accused Mapuche to serve between 25 to 40 years in prison.
This trial has been criticised by indigenous authorities and by lawyers, because the prosecution’s main evidence against the Mapuche is from a “protected witness.”
This legal manoeuvre, which these groups are challenging, is protected by the anti-terrorism law that emerged during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
The spokesman of the Autonomous Community of Temucuicui, Jorge Hunchullán, complained that ”they are still using a law inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship” to try these cases.
The spokesman also described the trial as ”an assembly oriented to criminalise Mapuche people’s struggle,” adding that they are defending their land and ancestral rights.