The Guardian 6 July, 2005

Chile: hunger strikers on brink of death

Four political prisoners who have been on a hunger strike for the past 46 days could lose their lives at any moment.

According to their doctor, the hunger strikers are showing signs of extreme malnutrition and have lost around 20 kilos each in body weight. They are in danger of major organ failure. The most complicated case is that of Hardy Peña, who has spent 74 days on hunger strike over the past year.

"If the strike lasts until July 5, there are no guarantees as to their survival", Doctor López said.

Hardy Peña, Pablo Vargas, Claudio Melgarejo and Fedor Sánchez are suffering extreme abdominal pains, muscle cramps, swelling and fatigue. The cramps are preventing the prisoners from carrying out their regular activities — a situation that is most marked in the case of Hardy Peña. Fedor Sánchez is isolated from the others in Colina 1 pententiary.

The hunger strikers form part of a group of political prisoners who were tried by military tribunals at the beginning of the ’90s under anti-terrorist laws formulated by the Pinochet dictatorship to repress its political opposition. All of them were sentenced to 30 years hard labour and, due to the length of their sentences, none of them were released under the amnesty of August 2004.

The hunger strike is taking place as the Congress considers a bill that would grant them conditional freedom. The bill has already passed through the human rights commission of the Senate a second time. The bill has its critics, like commission president Enrique Silva, who insists that it needs revision to clarify certain provisions. However, he is prepared to ratify the existing bill in the hope of releasing the long-suffering hunger strikers: "The objective is to grant liberty to persons who have spent 14 years in there, who are suffering enormously and who are on hunger strike."

Demonstrations have been called in Chile. A worldwide call for expressions of support has gone out from writers in Chile. Send messages of support immediately to:

Back to index page