The policy of president Piñera and other officials is a murderous policy focused on the fighters of the revolution that started last year. Keeping our fellow political prisoners incarcerated means delivering them to death of coronavirus, which will be a triumph of the counterrevolution and a severe blow to our revolution that they want to end.
This scandal is demonstrated by the fact that there were about 45 political prisoners both Mapuche and non-Mapuche people in Chile before October 18, 2019, and more than 2,500 young people and workers after that date. Therefore, we say it is a conscious policy of the government and parliamentarians to end the revolution that threatens this system of hunger and death.
The situation of political prisoners in the midst of the pandemic is still a crisis. A Supreme Court justice said the prisons were a time bomb because overcrowding and prison conditions make it impossible to guarantee minimum protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The prisoners released several videos asking for minimum conditions to prevent their death, but the authorities did little or nothing. That is why there are already political prisoners who are assuming defeat because they may die inside the prison. This, while the Piñera government releases human rights violators and discusses projects that in no case benefit political prisoners.
For this situation, the Mapuche political prisoners detained in the prisons of Angol and Temuco informed the prison service that they were undergoing an indefinite hunger strike until their situation in the penitentiaries was changed and the benefit of fulfilling their sentences in their territories is granted.
Worldwide, it has been shown that prisons present greater risks of contagion and a higher incidence rate than infectious diseases such as influenza, tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis B and C, among others (WHO, 2014). In South America, overcrowding in prisons reaches in some cases around 700%, which creates an environment prone to fights and riots with a balance of several dead and injured.
In our country, the prison situation generates favorable conditions for coronavirus transmission. Overpopulation rates are high, as in the CDP Limache penitentiary, which has almost thrice its capacity (189%). In addition, there are prisons with deficient electrical installations, without clean bathrooms, and a general lack of specialized medical care, or even an infirmary. Currently, only one penitentiary has a hospital. In addition, the INDH 2019’s Third Study of Prison Conditions in Chile, found that, out of the 40 penitentiaries, 24 have some level of water shortage 24 hours a day, or a permanent lack of hygienic services.
Finally, according to a study carried out in Chilean prisons in 2012, around 45% of the penal population has at least one pathology formally diagnosed, the second most common being those that affect the respiratory system, with asthma predominating, an illness that puts the person in the risk group for the coronavirus.
That is why, in addition to the riot attempts and videos of prisoners calling for basic health measures, several organizations are developing an international campaign for the release of political prisoners. About 70 human rights organizations and memory websites sent a letter to Piñera; to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Hernán Larraín; to the Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich, among other authorities, demanding the release of all detainees during social protests, given the danger of contracting COVID-19 and “taking into account that most of them have no criminal record and enjoy the presumption of innocence.”
Government proposals on the subject
Piñera enacted a reprieve for people convicted of non-violent crimes who belong to risk groups (older people, pregnant women, newborn babies’ mothers, etc.) but excluding prisoners in pre-trial detention. Around 1,300 people were confined to house arrest, something totally insufficient if we consider that the Chilean prison population is about 42 thousand people.
On the other hand, there is an urgent discussion on the Humanitarian Law, which would release those convicted of human rights violations during the Pinochet dictatorship. More than 17,000 human rights violators have already been released.
For their part, several Guarantee Courts changed the prison situation of some political prisoners to house arrest, although it’s also a form of liberty deprivation often the Courts of Appeal revoke these sentences and maintain pre-trial detention.
As a minimum measure, some prisons are undergoing early detection testing and requiring some protocols, but with little or no effectiveness. We have already seen that restricting visits is of no use if there is no control or care over prison staff who are possible vectors of contagion.
Thus, there is no guarantee of justice for political prisoners who, for the most part, are not convicted, not to mention the lack of evidence.
It is always good to remember that the former president and currently United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, amended the Criminal Law in 2015, which started to demand the effective serving of sentences for Molotov cocktail shooters, among others repressive laws against the people, allowing Sebastián Piñera to make so many preventive arrests.
Emergency and general measures
This health emergency that affects all humanity evidently needs extraordinary measures to prevent mass deaths, because individualistic solutions are the ones that serve the least at this moment.
- Immediate release of political prisoners. As a minimum measure, a move to house arrest to avoid dying of COVID-19.
- Repeal pre-trial detention for all prisoners charged with non-violent crimes. These defendants must await their trial in freedom and under extra-prison surveillance measures.
- Piñera’s pardon, which released 1,300 people at risk and convicted of non-violent crimes, is insufficient to prevent the deaths. In Latin America young people also die, old age is not the only risk factor. For this reason, all those convicted of non-violent crimes (offenders, petty assailants (thefts), and petty traffickers) should also be placed on probation or house arrest. Most of them are poor, blacks, immigrants, and inhabitants of the outskirts. An example of such measures was seen in Iran, where 54,000 prisoners released in March to try to stop the spread of the epidemic in the country’s prisons. The measure was a temporary release that did not include defendants sentenced to more than five years in prison or those in high-security settings. How many dead must happen in Chile before the government takes saving-life measures?
All of the above excludes those who have been convicted of violent crimes, such as theft followed by death, kidnappings and murders; and violence against women, as well as military killers, professional or state agents, torturers, those who committed crimes against humanity.
- Mass detection tests for prisoners and prison staff.
- Immediate replacement of basic services such as water, to combat the spread of the virus.
- Hygiene products for employees and prisoners, such as masks, soap, etc.
- In case of suspicion of contagion, apply isolation measures, maintaining dignified treatment for people. This also applies to jailers.
- For a plan to contain the epidemic in the prison system, supervised by state, human rights organizations, and relatives of prisoners.
The Movimiento Internacional de los Trabajadores (MIT) makes an urgent call to all personalities and social and political organizations, to all defenders of political prisoners, to families and organizations of family members of prisoners to join forces and raise a single voice: Because the pandemic kills: Immediate release of prisoners, sanitary measures in all prisons!
We know that we must put strong pressure on the authorities, through letters, videos, or other means, as the IWL-FI is doing. But the strongest guarantee is organized mobilization. May the Chilean workers resume the revolution and fight primarily to recover their front-line soldiers arrested after the fight