The Chilean Supreme Court announced today (June 3rd) that it was annulling, in part, the sentences of four Mapuche individuals who, in February, were convicted of attempted murder and assault. The individuals immediately appealed that conviction on the grounds of due process violations and simultaneously began a hunger strike that has continued for more than 80 days. Originally, the four were sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in prison (for the two crimes), but today the Supreme Court reduced the total sentence to between 8 and 14 years in prison, depending on the individual. According to a spokesperson for the prisoners, the Mapuche will continue their hunger strike.
In order to understand the decision made by the Chilean Supreme Court, it is necessary to understand some of the legal process that led up to today’s events. In February of 2011, four Mapuche individuals were convicted of two crimes: attempted murder (of a Chilean prosecutor) and armed robbery. The four individuals were sentenced in March, but did not receive identical sentences. Three of the individuals — Jonathan Huenuche, Ramón Llanqulleo, and Jonathan Huillical — were sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison for the attempted murder, and an additional 5 years in prison for the armed robbery (thus totaling a maximum of 20 years in prison). The fourth individual, Héctor Llaitul, received a sentence of 15 years in prison for the attempted murder conviction, and an additional 10 years in prison for the armed robbery charges (thus totaling a maximum of 25 years in prison).
Today’s decision by the Supreme Court did not touch upon the sentences for armed robbery at all. This fact was expressly pointed out by the Court’s spokesperson today who stated that the convictions for that crime are “immovable.” However, the Supreme Court did reduce the sentences on the attempted murder conviction for all four individuals. For Huenuche, Llanqulleo, and Huillical, the sentence was reduced to a maximum of 3 years in prison; for Llaitul, the sentence was reduced to a maximum of 4 years in prison. In reality, these reductions in sentencing are due to the fact that the Supreme Court actually overturned the convictions for attempted murder — stating that there was not enough evidence for such a ruling — but then replaced those convictions with ones of a lesser crime, namely, some type of assault on public officials.
Thus, in total, Huenuche, Llanqulleo, and Huillical have been sentenced to a maximum of 8 years in prison, while Llaitul’s sentence has been reduced to a maximum of 14 years in prison. All four individuals have already served two years of their respective sentences as they awaited for the trail and appellate processes to proceed.
The Mapuche individuals had originally appealed on the grounds that their due process rights had been violated. Specifically, the original trial against them used “protected witnesses” — witnesses who testified against the defendants, but whose names were never released and whose faces were never seen by either the defendants or their legal counsel. The use of protected witnesses is permissible in Chilean law when a crime falls under the country’s Antiterrorism Law. Originally, the crimes in question were classified under that law, but, in late 2010, that law was changed and all pending cases against Mapuche individuals under that law were reportedly reclassified so as to no longer fall under that law. Given these facts, the Mapuche individuals’ appeals sought to have their entire trial annulled on due process grounds.
Until the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision becomes available, it is a little unclear how they handled this issue. On the one hand, the Court seems to agree that there was not sufficient evidence to convict any of the individuals of crimes under the country’s Antiterrorism Law, but on the other hand, it is clear that they did not find enough of a due process violation to warrant dismissing the trial in its entirety.
The Court’s decision was ultimately rejected by the four Mapuche involved. Through their spokesperson, Natividad Llanquileo, they have indicated that they will continue their hunger strike and that they will appeal to international bodies on grounds that their due process rights were violated. Llanquileo stated further, “The Chilean Supreme Court has endorsed the implementation of the Antiterrorism Law, [they] have endorsed the unconstitutional breach of security, and [they] believe that this problem can be solved by lowering penalties. But we will not accept this decision for any reason because of all the violations that took place during the trial.”