Chile court rules on case of Mapuche Indians

AP News
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Posted: Jun 03, 2011 5:10 PM
Chile court rules on case of Mapuche Indians

A ruling by Chile's Supreme Court on Friday failed to persuade four Mapuche Indian activists to give up a long-running hunger strike against the government's use of a tough anti-terrorism law to crack down on their efforts to regain ancestral lands.

The court downgraded some convictions from attempted murder to assault for the four convicted activists who attacked police and a prosecutor in 2008, but it then added robbery, court spokesman Nibaldo Segura said.

The Mapuches were hoping to walk free, saying Chile's use of the dictatorship-era law violated their due process, imposing harsher sentences than the underlying crimes would otherwise carry.

Now the men are pledging to extend their 81-day hunger strike, which has left them hospitalized in precarious condition. Prison officials said they will seek a court order to force-feed the men.

Hector Llaitul faces the toughest sentence _ 15 years _ as leader of the Arauco-Malleco Indian group. Johnathan Huillical, Ramon Llanquileo and Jose Huenuche face eight years.

The four are participating in their second hunger strike. Last year they were among a dozen Mapuches who refused to eat for 82 days until the government agreed to modify its use of the anti-terrorism law.

But the government didn't drop the law altogether: The men's convictions depended in part on anonymous witnesses who were paid for their testimony.

"The hunger strike will only be lifted if they reverse the convictions," said Llanquileo's sister, Natividad Llanquileo.

She marched with dozens of Mapuche activists from the courts to the presidential palace after Friday's ruling, which she characterized as an attack on all Mapuches. Chile's original inhabitants now number about 900,000. Most live in poverty.