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Chile: Lawsuits and Criminalization of Artists and Social Movements Demonstrate Increasing Censorship

Tuesday 28 July 2020 - 8:10pm

Las Tesis

Update - 6 January 2021

On 4 January 2021, a Court in Valparaíso, Chile, issued the definitive dismissal of all charges issued on members of Las Tesis for attacks or threats against the authorities for a performance and publishing a video in social media.

PEN International celebrates the judge's ruling and sees it as an important step in the defence and protection of freedom of expression. However, the Chilean authorities must still work to stop the criminalization of artists due to their work, condemn the use of excessive by the police, fully respect the agreements signed by the State of Chile, avoid conflicts of interest in legal or criminal investigations, and respect due process and guarantee access to human rights for all citizens.

Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, celebrates the decision and recognizes that the performance of Las Tesis “symbolizes the need for justice. Silencing them would have meant silencing an important message for many women in the world”.

PEN International and PEN Chile condemn legal actions taken against the activists and artists of LASTESIS, authors of the performance piece "A rapist in your way", which has been performed in more than 35 countries. These actions, brought by a branch of the Chilean police force, the Carabineros, put freedom of expression at risk and demonstrate the threat to writers, artistic and social activists and journalists who criticize security and government policies.

“The criminalization of this group of authors, artists and activists for laudable causes such as women's rights and art as a space for criticism, is an attack against free expression that impacts an entire society. LASTESIS' performance symbolizes the need for justice and a voice for millions of women. Stopping them would mean silencing women around the world,” said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

On 16 June 2020, the newspaper La Tercera revealed a legal complaint against LASTESIS by the Carbineros of Chile for the alleged crime of "attack on authority and threats against the institution of the police.” On 17 June, the Valparaíso Regional Prosecutor's Office confirmed that there had been two complaints lodged against the artists. The first one was made on 30 May, and the second one on 12 June. A criminal investigation was ordered and approved to be carried out by the same institution that made the complaints, thus creating a conflict of interest.

The first complaint was the result of a video and some phrases allegedly written by the group which were published on 27 May on LATESIS' social media. In the video, LASTESIS -in collaboration with the group Pussy Riot - denounces acts of police violence against women and violence in the context of confinement due to COVID-19 in different parts of Chile.

The members of LASTESIS told PEN that they did not write these phrases and that they do not appear in the video. They said that they were not informed of the legal actions against them previously or formally, and that they only received a response from the Valparaíso Regional Prosecutor's Office after their lawyers presented themselves formally - after which copies of the complaints were delivered to them.

Two of the members of the group also said that they have been intimidated at least once during the last month with green laser beams aimed at the interior of their houses, and that they were the targets of a smear campaign before and after the complaints.

The second complaint accuses LASTESIS of alleged acts of violence against the Chilean Carabineros in the context of the protests in November and December 2019, linked to public performances of "A rapist in your way."

The President of PEN Chile, Jorge Ragal, said: “This is an attempt that intimidates in two ways, sending a message of censure towards artistic and cultural creation and also to demands for equality and women's rights. The PEN Chile Center and its members raise their voices, calling on the authorities to end this attempt to criminalize LASTESIS ”.

PEN International is concerned that the same institution that is conducting the investigation also has responsibility for authorizing people to leave their homes during the COVID-19 confinement. It is also concerned that the four members of the group were not informed of the complaints against them in accordance with the law.

Numerous citizen initiatives have been presented in favour of LASTESIS internationally, such as the call by 30 Hollywood actresses to withdraw the complaints. Nonetheless, the Carabineros have continued with the criminal process.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern about the criminal process against LASTESIS, citing that it could lead to the criminalization of artistic expression and protest, which should be protected by the right to freedom of expression.

The IACHR has emphasised the need to guarantee women's right to freedom of expression and access to information as a tool to combat gender-based violence. To this end, the expressions of protest against gender violence by human rights defenders, artists and women's groups, which have expanded thanks to the role played by online protests, have been of great value in raising awareness of the persistence of a problem that impedes the right of women to enjoy a life free of violence.

In December 2019, the IACHR condemned the excessive use of violence in the context of the social protest in Chile, during which a large number of human rights violations received by state organs were documented. The IACHR indicated that it was aware of at least 332 complaints against the Carabineros, 39 against the military and 6 against the Investigative Police (PDI).

PEN International calls urgently on the Government of Chile to:

  • Stop criminalizing the LASTESIS group, end its harassment and safeguard its physical and psychological integrity.
  • Respect the agreements signed by the State of Chile in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including respect for Freedom of Expression and Assembly.
  • End conflicts of interest in legal or criminal investigations and respect due process and guarantee access to human rights for all citizens.

Translation: Lucina Kathmann, Vice President of PEN International