Four Chilean congressional representatives from opposition parties announced today that they are joining an ongoing hunger strike by 34 indigenous Mapuche prisoners, who are protesting the use of Pinochet-era anti-terrorism laws to charge indigenous civilians for their role in land disputes with the government. The protesters say they are political prisoners and should not be treated as terror suspects or have to face trial in military courts.
According to congressional aides, the leftist lawmakers are members of a human rights commission in the lower house of the national congress and have demanded that President Sebastian Piñera’s government begin talks with the inmates.
Reports indicate that Mr. Piñera this week introduced legislation that aims to ensure that civilians cannot be tried in military courts, and to reduce sentences under the anti-terror statutes. The Piñera administration has so far declined, however, to enter direct talks with the protestors. In response to the lawmakers’ decision to join the hunger strike, Minister of the Interior Rodrigo Hinzpeter has said the legislators are acting like “kindergartners” and should return to congress to press their case.