On May 12, 2017, Chilean police, known as Carabineros, attempted to disperse a nonviolent student protest on the campus of the Catholic University of Temuco using teargas. An 18 year old art student, Fabiola Antiqueo, was hit in the eye with a tear gas canister, and left partially blind as a result.
At around 6:00 a.m., fifteen students, who were living in a campus residence established for members of the indigenous Mapuche community, began a protest supporting two Mapuche political prisoners, and claiming that the government´s actions against the Mapuche people are discriminatory. The protest reportedly blocked the traffic two blocks away from the students’ residence.
The police arrived and dispersed the protest with tear gas. They then police reportedly followed the student protesters back to their residence and, once the students were inside, shot tear gas into the building. In 30 minutes, the police reportedly launched 60 tear gas canisters, forcing the students out of the building. A number of students, including Ms. Antiqueo (who had not been at the protest), exited onto the roof, where the police continued to launch tear gas at them from another position. Ms. Antiqueo was hit by debris in the left eye; the harm was compounded by broken glass from the glasses she was wearing at the time. Ms. Antiqueo lost her eye as a result of the injury.
On June 22, Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights filed a criminal complaint against those police who were allegedly responsible for the attack. The case is pending as of this report.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force by police against nonviolent student protesters. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents chill academic and other forms of expression, and undermine democratic society generally.