Thursday, 03 July 2008
Written by Jason Snyder

The Inter-American Human Rights Commission will hear from representatives regarding the detainment of Elena Varela, a journalist seized while making a Mapuche documentary.

The request to the Inter-American court was made by the Human Rights Center at Diego Portales University, the Association of Chilean Documentarians and the Observatory of the Rights of Indigenous Towns. The request comes after a Rancagua court appearance in which legal counsel for Varela were denied entry into the hearing for 15 minutes. The delay prevented lawyers from making the case of illegal detention for the Chilean filmmaker.

Elena Varela was arrested on May 7 while filming "Newen Mapuche" in La Araucanía (Region IX). The documentary, funded through government grants, investigates Chile´s forestry industry and the destruction of Mapuche ancestral lands. The conflict remains a sensitive issue in Chile along with the lack of rights given to indigenous communities.

According to the police, she was detained for her alleged role in an armed leftist movement in Region IV although authorities have provided no evidence. Authorities seized her camera equipment and over four years worth of video footage. She is currently being held in the Rancagua Penitentiary (Region IV).

"We hope the Commission acts with speed to order the release of Varela from prison", said Paulina Acevedo of the Observatory of the Rights of Indigenous Towns. The ongoing detention of Varela and the continued harassment of filmmakers constitute direct violations of freedom of expression, a right that is recognized as fundamental in Chile and within the Organization of American States (OAS).

Varela is not the first documentarian to be arrested for seeking to tell the story of Mapuche discrimination. In March, French filmmakers Cyril Harrison and Joffrey Paul Rossj were detained by police but were released several days later.

Dario Ioseffi and Giuseppe Gabriele were arrested on May 3 for recording Mapuche protests against logging giant Foretal Minico. The Italian filmmakers were ordered to leave Chile. Authorities went so far as to drive them to Santiago´s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport.

Varela has continued to request a visit from the Minister of Culture Paulina Urrutia to hear of her experience firsthand. Chile´s Foundation for Art is part of the Culture Ministry and is responsible for funding projects such as documentaries.

Elena Varela has been classified as a Prisoner of Conscious by Amnesty International.

By Jason Snyder ( editor@santiagotimes.clThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )