Protests against a now cancelled metro fare rise quickly escalated into a movement against inequality in Chile.

In Chile a proposed hike to the metro price quickly evolved to reveal inequality as mass mobilisations engulfed the South American nation.

According to official reports 19 people have died and over a thousand have been injured.

There have been allegations of excessive force and abuses ranging from beatings and torture to sexual violence - with 18 cases registered at the hands of state forces in Chile.

Camila Maturana, a human rights lawyer for female rights group Humanas told TRT World that security forces have allegedly committed abuses, "in the context of conflict and militarisation, people’s rights were violated in a systematic and often in an unaccountable way”.

She says there have been complaints of sexual violence against women.

“There is a pattern of behaviour of police officers from undressing female detainees, gropings, threats of rape, insults of a sexual nature. There have been some cases of rape by people working for the state,” alleges Maturana.

Maturana has decried the Chilean government role so far, saying: “No political authority [in Chile] has released a clear declaration to condemn the sexual violence by agents of the state.” 

Social media has circulated what appear to show a range of abuses committed by state forces. 

Around 50 Chilean law professors have decried grave human rights abuses in an open letter.

Chile’s National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) reports that five deaths were at the hands of state forces. There have been 120 allegations of torture and over 140 people have suffered eye injuries. One of the INDH observers was shot six times by pellets, despite wearing a bright yellow uniform to show he was not part of the protest.

Some reports say as many as 7,000 arrests have been made and 200 of those are minors who were involved in social movements.

Demonstrators are sprayed by riot police water canons during a protest against Chile's government in Concepcion, Chile October 31, 2019.
Demonstrators are sprayed by riot police water canons during a protest against Chile's government in Concepcion, Chile October 31, 2019. (Reuters)

As a result of the ongoing situation, embattled Chilean President Pinera cancelled the Asia-PAcific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the UN climate change conference COP25.

Amnesty International and the UN are investigating allegations of abuse.

TRT World spoke to several of the Chileans who allege they have been abused by Chilean security forces. 

They spoke only with the promise of anonymity, fearing potential reprisals for speaking out.

Juan (not his real name) is an academic who alleges he suffered at the hands of the Chilean Police. 

He says the incident took place in the city of Rancagua, around 90km south of the capital, Santiago.

‘Stepped on me’

After the state of emergency was announced, which Juan says was “illegal and unconstitutional”, Chileans would arrive at 10am in the central squares and stay until curfew. 

He says there was looting, but says he was taking part in a peaceful protest.  

Juan said it happened two weeks ago on Tuesday.

“What I was doing was taking part in a peaceful march and it finished at 8pm because it was curfew. So I was returning to my home.

“At that time, I began to see four policemen attacking an underage person. Once they had him restrained, they pepper sprayed his face. At this point I went to confront them and that’s when they detained me with a lot of force,” he said.

Juan says he was subjected to physical violence.

“They hit me on my face with fists. When I was on the floor, they kicked me - they stepped on me. They put me in a police vehicle where they continued hitting me,” says Juan.

Juan says he was unsure what was going to happen to him.

"After this, they started to go around the city without saying where they were taking me. They then took me out [of the police van] into the police station. I didn’t know where I was going.”

Juan says the police took him to the main police station in Rancagua.

Once inside, the physical abuse continued. 

"They kept hitting me. When they took me into the police station, none of the police showed their IDs, which is a crime. In Chile this constitutes an illegal detention. They didn’t inform me of my rights either, which is part of the normal arrest of a person,” he says.

“They undressed me. I wanted to know the name of the person who had arrested me as he attacked me strongly. I also wanted to know the person in charge at the Police Station, which they didn’t give me.”

A masked anti-government protester stands by a burning street barricade in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A masked anti-government protester stands by a burning street barricade in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

He says police then took him into a cell, alongside 18 or 19 other people, where the conditions were bad.  

“There was someone underage in one of the cells. They weren’t with us, because they had been separated. There were also women. I was in the cell alongside the men. There were kids from 16 years old to those around 50-60 years old. There were people who couldn’t sit down because there were a lot of people and you had to be standing up. There was blood, vomit and urine in the cell.”

He says that police chastised him and the others in the cell and did not follow the curfew timings either, letting them go two hours later.

He says the police took his earphones and broke his mobile phone. 

Juan says that a very close friend was arrested and taken a few days before into a police station, alleging they threw tear gas into his cell.

“It constitutes a very strong form of aggression as people can’t escape from a cell and to be subjected to tear gas is torment. It’s simply torture."

He has since reported his case to the Chilean right’s group (INDH) who are continuing with their investigation.

In reference to allegations of disappearances, deaths, sexual violence and detention, he says: “It’s a situation of much uncertainty.” 

Juan equates his experience to the continuation of the cycle of violence in the dictatorship.

“It’s got the look of a democracy but it continues functioning with the same institutions with a constant repression, a constant fear, helicopters flying over our homes, trucks with soldiers scaring the population in the poorest parts of the city,” he says.

“In 2019 to go back to relive this - it’s a nightmare for us. To go back to what we thought would never happen again. We thought Chile was a democratic ‘paradise’. It has ended up not being the case.”

‘Sadistic, insolent, torturous’

David (not his real name) is a 20-year-old medical student at the University of O’Higgins. He says he got a crew of medical students together and they headed to the streets of Rancagua to help those injured during the mobilisations.

“Those injured were helped by us.” he says.

The group carried their credentials, wore medical uniforms and carried medical kits for treating the effects of tear gas, pepper spray and pellets.

“Once we were there helping injured people as curfew fell. The police stopped us. They treated us very violently. They questioned whether we really were studying or not,” he says. 

He says the police didn’t believe them and reacted in a repressive manner, as the medical students looked to help those injured away from the protest. 

“They told us ‘No those people that are injured are going to die because God wants them to’. That’s how the police responded to us in Chile, in a very sadistic, insolent, torturous, violent way,” he says. 

David said they were fully armed and were threatening.

He insisted that they were only helping, as the police demanded their IDs.

“Finally we gave them the IDs and we got pepper sprayed in the face without any discretion, they sent us back to our homes after kicking us,” he explains.

David says he has seen people with “contusions”, which he says is an injury received from a blunt object.

Demonstrators burn a barricade during a protest in Santiago, Chile
Demonstrators burn a barricade during a protest in Santiago, Chile (AFP)

David says Chileans see the same tactics from the state forces, “starting out with beatings, with truncheons, which are blunt force weapons, deterrents like tear gas, pepper spray and firearms with pellets both rubber and metal ones”.

He adds: “The response was always over the barrel of a gun, through repression, torture and the disappearance of people. We lived 16 years like that and now we lived a complete week like that.”

He says there are not enough observers where he is based to keep a check on events.

‘10 shots in total’ 

Natalia (not her real name) is a 26-year-old publicist. 

On October 21, she was participating in a LGBTQ  march calling for more equality in Chile’s capital Santiago. 

Their march was organised to reach the Costanera centre.

Natalia had gone with her friend and sister. She says the march was scheduled for the group to reach the Waterfront Centre and that security forces were heavy handed from the start.

"After a couple of hours dodging tear gas and pellets, a group from the demonstration managed to approach the Waterfront centre," she says.

When Natalia reached it, she found a large presence of around 75 security forces - both police and military. 

She sat down to show they were peaceful.

"We sat on the ground with our hands up, shouting 'No violence!' so that there would be no confrontations.”

She says then things took a turn for the worse, as police started to fire tear gas without discretion. "I heard at least 10 shots in total," she says. 

As people began quickly dispersing, Natalia looked to find her friend and sister to escape along one of the nearby avenues.

"As I turned to take my friend and my sister's hand, it was the moment when I felt that a tear gas canister hit me in the face, launched by a policeman about 50 metres away. It broke my nose instantly." 

"I started to bleed a lot,” says Natalia who was dazed as the adrenaline kicked in.

Seeing her losing blood, her friends tried to ask for help as many people were running away. 

Finally, a group of people responded and led her away to the hall of the nearest building, with help from a local concierge, she later cleaned the wound and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. Given her bloodied state, several taxi drivers refused to carry her. 

She eventually made it to hospital and found people with similar injuries.

"I remember that there was a boy who had been hit by teargas on his head and had broken his forehead,” she says.

Natalia was quickly seen, given anaesthesia and the wound was closed. Her friend knew one of the medics at the hospital, helping to avoid the queues.

The next day Natalia went to the public hospital. She says it was dealing with the high number of casualties from the protests. 

"Due to resources, they had to give priority to other cases with greater urgency. This means that I had to pay for the operation myself," she says.

Natalia says she went to the nearest prosecutor’s office to lodge a complaint. She says the security forces didn't follow protocol for tear gas.

"Tear gas cannot be thrown either upwards or towards the body, only towards the ground, so as not to hurt to people," she says.

Natalia's diagnosis is a displaced nasoseptal fracture, a left ascending maxillary fracture, and nasal septum deviation.

“Overall I am grateful that it was a nasal fracture and the tear gas canister failed to reach my eye, as I would probably have lost it,” she says.

A man lights a candle in memory of protesters killed during clashes with security forces during anti-government demonstrations in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019.  (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A man lights a candle in memory of protesters killed during clashes with security forces during anti-government demonstrations in Santiago, Chile, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

In addition to lodging her complaint at the prosecutor's office, she has tried to contact INDH and Amnesty International, but says she has not received a response from either so far.

"I imagine that it’s due to the number of cases of human rights violations," she says.

But Natalia feels grateful for the support of her loved ones during these incredibly challenging moments. 

She had to travel outside the capital for her nose operation over the weekend.

Despite the physical and mental impact, Natalia is prepared to continue fighting.

“Do not be fooled by what traditional media say [especially Television Nacional] human rights are being violated daily, and every day that passes, the country's armed forces get more and more violent in an attempt to disperse the demonstrations and ‘return to normal,’” she says. 

Natalia says she wants those guilty of human rights violations, both government and security forces firmly held to account since the start of the mobilisations.

“They will not silence us, we will continue to make noise until dignity becomes normal, and we will continue fighting for all the dead along the way, for all abuses of the Chilean military forces, which continue with the legacy of the 1973 dictatorship.”

Source: TRT World