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  • Santiago Maldonado disappeared on August 1 after police clashed with the Mapuche community over a land dispute involving Benetton.

    Santiago Maldonado disappeared on August 1 after police clashed with the Mapuche community over a land dispute involving Benetton. | Photo: Reuters

Prosecutor Silvina Avila had claimed the case lacked sufficient evidence to support the claim of a "forced disappearance."

The investigation into the death of Argentinian artist Santiago Maldonado will continue as a "forced disappearance" case, Judge Gustavo Lleral said Saturday after rejecting a request from the prosecution to downgrade the line of investigation to one of "dubious death."

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Prosecutor Silvina Avila had suggested the case lacked sufficient evidence to support the claim of a forced disappearance, which is what the young backpacker's family has long considered the cause of his untimely death.

After weeks of searching, the body of the 26-year-old fine-arts graduate was found in the Chubut River, just meters from where he vanished, a location that had been searched on six previous occasions.

The judge said that the circumstances surrounding the discovery of Maldonado's body did not alter the investigation into his disappearance and the parameters would remain unchanged.

Testimony from witness Lucas Pilquiman is also under review per the request of police officer Emmanuel Echazu, who is being investigated in connection with Monaldo's death.

Maldonado disappeared after confrontations broke out between federal security forces and Mapuche activists resisting eviction from land claimed by Benetton.

His body was finally found 11 weeks later after his disappearance prompted an international outcry. An autopsy concluded that he had drowned.

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Veronica Heredia, lawyer for the Maldonado family, has called for an "effective, exhaustive, impartial and independent investigation."

A recent report by Maria del Carmen Verdu, a member of the Coordinator Against Police and Institutional Repression (Correpi), warns that Argentina is "going through the most violent repressive peak since 1983."

Violent protests have been erupting across the country, with at least 70 protesters arrested and 160 people injured during demonstrations against pension reforms.

"For the first time, we exceeded the one dead per day mark related to trigger-happy or torture incidents," the report warns.

Verdu recognizes that 1989 and 2001, years marked by economic crisis, were "tough moments," but she asserts that the current escalation in state repression is unprecedented.


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