‘It's like we're back to the Pinochet era’

 
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera called for a dialogue with demonstrators on Sunday after three months of protests culminated in violence during last week’s two-day national strike. Yet, as protest leaders prepare to meet with Pinera over the unrest, videos and stories of unprovoked police brutality have surfaced on the Internet, putting the country’s policing tactics into question.
 
Chile’s protests were first sparked by a student movement denouncing the country’s schools as dysfunctional and unequal. Their ranks quickly swelled as professors and parents joined the demonstrations demanding Pinera’s government provide the country with an adequate public education system. Before long, the protests grew to include workers unions calling for pension and healthcare reforms.
  
On August 24-25, thousands of people took part in a two-day national strike (600,000 participants according to event organisers versus a police count of 175,000). However, the demonstrations were marred by violent clashes between protesters and security forces. As the strikes wound down, the country took stock of the damage – more than 1,300 people had been arrested, and several police officers wounded in the unrest. Most tragically however, a teenage boy died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
 
In response to the violence triggered by Chile’s student demonstrations, Amnesty International has expressed concern about the excessive force used by police against protesters in a statement published on August 18, and has called for an investigation.

“I was beaten, insulted and then I was imprisoned”

Matías J. Hernández is a student in Chile’s capital, Santiago. He participated in protests there on August 24.
 
I was arrested by police on Wednesday [August 24] while I was protesting peacefully with my mother and some friends. I was beaten, insulted and then I was imprisoned for more than seven hours. I found myself in a cell with a number of older men, who were there for different reasons than me. I was angry, because the only thing I had done wrong was to film the protest with my camera. I feel like we’ve returned to the time of Pinochet – a time when a citizen’s fundamental rights were denied [Augusto Pinochet Ugarte seized power in Chile during a 1973 coup, ushering in 17 years of military rule until he stepped aside in 1990].
 
The morning after my arrest, the police finally had to release me because they had no proof I had done anything wrong.
 
After this experience, I’m thinking about going to a human rights organisation because of the physical and psychological damage I’m suffering from. I’m also thinking about going after the individuals responsible for my arrest.”
 
 
A police officer pulls out his weapon in front of a group of protesters, before driving away on his motorcycle without making a single arrest. According to the daily news website El Mostrador, this scene took place in front of a high school in Santiago, where students and civil servants were attempting to disrupt traffic during the country’s two-day strike. The armed police officer arrived on the scene as a teacher attempted to intervene in the arrest of a student. Video posted on Youtube by buskaglia75.

"Police don’t attack peaceful protesters unless they’re not respecting the rules"

Marcelo Colomera lives in Temuco, south of Santiago.
 
The only protests that end badly are the ones with encapuchados [masked individuals]. In this case, the police have to show their authority. Today, delinquents are no longer afraid of the police. They don’t hesitate to throw stones or Molotov cocktails at them. So, the police have to be firm.
 
With that said, the police don’t attack peaceful protesters unless they’re not respecting the rules. For example, if they don’t follow the predetermined protest route.
 
I respect democracy and therefore I respect the right to protest. But I don’t respect the actions of encapuchados."
 
A police officer throws a teargas bomb into the postal workers union headquarters in Santiago. Video posted on Youtube AkiraDaFlavor.
 
An unarmed man is hit several times by a police officer. He is then taken to a police van. Video posted on Youtube by  Grck7.

“We hope that all incidents of police brutality will be brought before a court”

Ana Piquer is the director of Amnesty International in Chile.
 
There’s no official census specifically on incidents of police abuse in Chile. There have always been cases of abuse, but these last few months of protests have had a serious impact on the number of people who have come forward saying they are the victims of random violence. For example, we’ve heard of police using teargas against innocent people or using excessive force.
 
The growing number of cases prompted us a few days ago to call on public officials to open an investigation into police brutality. In the two days that we’ve been waiting for an answer, several new complaints have been reported to us.
  
The argument that protesters should distance themselves from thugs in order to avoid being confused with them by police doesn’t hold. Security forces should be able to identify rioters from what are otherwise mostly peaceful protesters. Arrests should be made in accordance with international standards and respect the rights of the individual concerned. The police should respect innocent protesters. To say the contrary suggests that any protester could be subject to blind repression.
 
We hope that all incidents of police brutality will be brought before a court, but we’re not very optimistic. The public authorities have never showed any kind of willingness to investigate these kinds of cases.”
 
A young, unarmed protester is apprehended by a policeman, and beaten in the face. The person who filmed the incident hopes to identify the officer. Video posted on Youtube by DiarioLaVilla.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Cécile Loïal.
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