Chilean President Sebastian Piñera sent a bill to congress on Tuesday to reform Chile’s penal code and allow harsher sentences for certain forms of popular protest. According to the proposed legislation, protestors could receive prison sentences of up to three years for offenses such as occupying educational, religious or office buildings, impeding foot or vehicular traffic, and interrupting the delivery of public services.
The bill is a response to more than five months of student-led demonstrations to oppose greater privatization of secondary- and post-secondary schools—a process that began during the 17-year rule of former President Augusto Pinochet. Since May, protesters have occupied more than 200 educational institutions and drawn considerable international media attention. The ongoing demonstrations have also affected Piñera’s approval ratings, which dropped to 30 percent in September, down from 63 percent following the rescue of 33 miners one year ago, according to Santiago-based research group Adimark Gfk.
The bill has already drawn criticism from the opposition Concertación coalition as well as human rights groups. In a letter to the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Associación Chilena de Organinismos No Gubernamentales (Chilean Association of Nongovernmental organizations-ACCIÓN) said the new penalties “violate the principles of rule of law that should govern in a democratic system.”