Prison guards "turn guns on prisoners" in Chile

Screen grabs from two videos filmed in the Colina II prison in Chile. Left: guards beat the prisoners. Right: a prisoner shows his injuries.
Screen grabs from two videos filmed in the Colina II prison in Chile. Left: guards beat the prisoners. Right: a prisoner shows his injuries.

Violence broke out between prisoners and guards in the Colina II prison in the north of Chile's capital Santiago on February 1. Dozens of people were wounded. But was it really an uprising on the part of prisoners? Human rights groups say that it wasn't — and that guards mounted a "violent operation" against the detainees, as some videos appear to show.

On February 1, videos filmed by the prisoners were published on Facebook.

A video shared to Facebook by the lawyer Fernando Alfredo Inzunza Ruston.

In the above video, several guards in the prison's courtyard can be seen apparently kicking and beating prisoners with batons.

Video shared by NGO Observatorio Social Penitenciario.

In this video above, prisoners collapse on to a dilapidated sofa in the middle of the courtyard.

Another video shared by the lawyer Fernando Alfredo Inzunza Ruston.

In this third video, the sound of gunshots can be heard. "This is what is happening with the new management in the prison. They shoot with guns, they've broken televisions,"  a voice says over the video.

Chilean media also shared the videos, saying that a "mutiny" in the prison had resulted in 40 injured people, of which 30 were prisoners and 10 guards. It's the same story from the regional director of prison guards, Sergio Alarcón, who said, "The guards went into the cells, which they often do to try to calm things down. Then inside Building 4 there was a commotion, and staff members had to intervene."

But several organisations have contested this official version of events.

"The guards fired on prisoners and hit them wildly"

Marlenne Velásquez is a lawyer at the Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos [National Institute of Human Rights, created by the Chilean authorities].

According to statements from witnesses, the guards went into the prisoners' cells in Building 4 very early in the morning. They were violent with the prisoners, hitting them and destroying their belongings. So the prisoners reacted. They managed to barricade themselves in the building, where they protested against their treatment. But the guards managed to get in and fired guns at the detainees and hit out wildly. Then the prisoners were forced to go out on to the patio, where they were beaten some more. They stayed there for hours.

Prisoners in Building 9 have also said that they were abused by the guards, after having openly supported the prisoners in Building 4.

We estimate that 46 prisoners were hurt, as well as 14 guards. I saw injuries from firearms, cuts, bruises. One of the prisoners had part of his finger chopped off. It's unusual to see these kinds of injuries. It's unjustifiable.

"It's been years since we last saw such violence in this prison"

Galo Muñoz is the director of the Observatorio Social Penitenciario (Social Pentitentiary Observatory), a Chilean NGO. He concurs with this version of events.

The guards often go into the cells to check for mobile phones or drugs. But they were excessively violent on February 1. They used knives to slash the prisoners' clothes, hunting rifles in the courtyard... It's been years since we last saw such violence in this prison.

Two other videos were shared across social media, a few days after the violence took place, allegedly showing the injuries prisoners had received from guards.

Blurred screen grabs from a video shared on Facebook by Anthony Neira Troncoso.

In this video, there are three prisoners with bullet wounds on their arms, thighs, stomach and back. A fourth prisoner has open wounds on his forehead. This video was clearly filmed on the same patio that was shown in the previous videos.

In this next video, prisoners, some of them handcuffed, are escorted to the San José hospital in the north of Santiago by policemen. Some of them are bandaged; others, in wheelchairs.

All of the guards and prisoners that were hurt in the violence have been cared for. But one of the prisoners is still in "a very serious conditoin, due to a large neck injury", according to Galo Muñoz.

"All of the measures aimed at helping prisoners reintegrate into society have been reduced recently"

Galo Muñoz continues:

For about two months now, there has been a new director managing the prison. Since he arrived, all of the measures aimed at helping prisoners reintegrate into society — professional workshops, social assistance, etc — were reduced, same with day-trips, family visits... Now there's a heavy emphasis on security, which is difficult for the prisoners. All of that came to a head on February 1.

After the violence, the prison guards demanded more staff. There are only 30 guards for 2,500 prisoners. But the National Institute of Human Rights says that the first step is to combat the issue of overpopulated prisons.

According to Marlenne Velásquez, an investigation has been opened into the events of February 1. Lawyers and families of the prisoners have also appealed to Santiago's Court of Appeals.

The organisation in charge of prison guards did not want to comment when contacted by FRANCE 24.