November 24, 2006

Mapuche: Outcry over Imprisonment of Chief Juana Calfunao

Serious concern has been expressed across the international human rights community over the imprisonment of Juana Calfunao Paillalef, a Mapuche chief and distinguished spokeswoman for the Mapuche people. On 20 November she and her sister Luisa were both sentenced to 150 days in prison, after being convicted of public disorder offences.

Below is a letter released by the Mapuche International Link reporting the arrest of Juana Calfunao Paillalef and calling for her immediate release. Chief Juana Calfunao Paillalef spoke at a briefing organised by Mapuche Nation and UNPO at the UN in August 2006 (see photo – left bottom), raising strong concerns about the situation of the Mapuche.

Bristol, 23rd November, 2006 

Serious concern has been expressed across the international human rights community over the imprisonment of Juana Calfunao Paillalef, a Mapuche chief and distinguished spokeswoman for the Mapuche people. On 20 November she and her sister Luisa were both sentenced to 150 days in prison, after being convicted of public disorder offences.

Accusations of public disorder are considered by many as simply a tool in the continued harassment and repression of Chief Calfunao and her family. Consequently, the convictions on 16 November led to an outcry in the courtroom, as a result of which 12 members of the Mapuche community, including Chief Calfunao’s husband and one her sons, were also detained. Sentencing in the case was then postponed till 20 November and took place in private.

The charges against Chief Calfunao and her sister arose from their involvement in protests against the illegal construction of a private road through land belonging to their community.  During the protests, which took place in December 2005, police assaulted both the sisters and other community members and shot at the horse Chief Calfunao was riding.  Both she and her sister were subsequently further attacked and beaten by the police and taken into custody.

These events were one more chapter in the long campaign of intimidation against Chief Calfunao, members of her family and other members of the Juan Paillalef community by the police and by local landowners intent on forcing them to abandon their ancestral lands.  Chief Calfunao, as leader and spokeswoman for the community, has been particularly singled out as a result of her peaceful and high profile attempts to defend her people. In 2000 she was illegally detained and tortured, resulting in the miscarriage of her unborn child.  Her house has been burnt down on three separate occasions and one of these arson attacks sadly resulted in the death of her uncle, another prominent community leader. One of her sons, Waikilaf Cadin Calfunao, was detained in August this year and still remains in prison, where he has been on hunger strike since 8 October in protest at his treatment. His health is now a matter of very grave concern.

There is now also further serious concern for the physical and mental well-being of Chief Calfunao. Mapuche International Link adds its voice to the widespread condemnation of her detention and calls for both her and the rest of her family to be immediately released.

We ask our supporters and all those interested in the defense of human rights to write to the Chilean authorities expressing concern for the plight of Chief Calfunao and her family.

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