A dozen Mapuche held under Chile’s terrorist law absolved


Twelve Mapuche men accused in a 2009 bus attack acquitted after many were held for more than a year in ‘preventive custody’ facing charges of terrorism.

Weeks after the U.N. slammed Chile for the application of its anti-terrorism law, 12 indigenous Mapuche men being tried under the controversial law have had charges against them dropped.

Supporters celebrate after court absolves Mapuche men in bus attack. Photo courtesy of José Luis Vargas

The case against the men — accused of a violent bus attack outside of the Araucanía capital city of Temuco four years ago — was dropped due to “weak, poor and vague” evidence against them.

The attack occurred on the highway outside of Temuco, when a barricade stopped a bus operated by the Tur-Bus company and three other vehicles. The 40 passengers of the bus were attacked  by masked assailants. District Attorney Sergio Moya then authorized police raids across Yeupeco and Temuco, which led to the arrest of 12 Mapuche men in connection to the attack.

The men were charged with terrorism, illegal possession of firearms and general damage of property, and the government sought to apply the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law in the case. It was this law that allowed many of the men to be held in preventive custody for almost a year ahead of their trial. The legislation also allows for anonymous testimony to be considered and for heavier sentences.

Last week, these men were set free after hearings by the criminal court in Temuco dropped the terrorist charges against all twelve Mapuche men. It upheld the charges of general damage of property but ruled this charge should be brought as a general criminal charge, adding that the anti-terrorist legislation was not applicable.

In the ruling handed down last Wednesday, the court noted that though these charges remain, it has not “subverted the presumption of innocence which protects them.”

The statement from the court emphasized that defendants can only be found guilty by the court during proceedings, and not beforehand.

“No one may be convicted of a crime until the court, beyond reasonable doubt, reaches a conviction,” the ruling said.

The dozen men now await their hearings for the damage of property charges. This time, though, they will enter the trial with the presumption of innocence.

This decision came the same day as the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse the acquittal of a police officer in the shooting death of Jaime Mendoza Collío, a Mapuche man killed during a confrontation between Mapuche land activists and police in 2009.

Both rulings come just a month after a U.N. expert surveyed the use of the anti-terrorist law in Chile and heavily criticised its application in Mapuche cases. The expert, Ben Emmerson, said that the crimes committed in the Araucanía Region and surrounding area were not terrorism and instead should be handled in criminal courts under regular legislation and regulations.

Source: The Santiago Times

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