SANTIAGO – The three members of a court in the southern Chilean city of Temuco voted unanimously on Friday to acquit photojournalist Felipe Duran on charges of illegal possession of guns and explosives.
Known for his work documenting the conflict between Mapuche Indian militants and the forestry companies that occupy lands formerly belonging to the indigenous people, Duran was arrested last September at his home in the Araucania region.
The photographer, who has worked with EFE in Araucania, spent 10 months awaiting trial, locked up along with 65 other mainly Mapuche prisoners who face charges related to the land conflict.
The judges in Temuco rejected the prosecution’s evidence against Duran as “weak.”
In an interview with online outlet El Desconcierto, Duran said the real reason for his arrest and prosecution was authorities’ unhappiness over his work documenting the Mapuche struggle.
Before his arrest, Duran was receiving threats from a group that calls itself Husar and proclaims a commitment to fighting “terrorism” in Araucania.
Husar, according to Duran, is made up of retired police and military personnel living in Araucania who enjoy “certain levels of influence” with the security forces.
A year ago, Husar accused Duran of being a pro-Mapuche activist and claimed to have the photographer under surveillance “day and night.”
Mapuche militants torch vehicles, highway toll booths and lumber shipments as part of a struggle to reclaim lands lost during a late-19th-century “pacification” campaign against the indigenous people in Araucania and Bio Bio.
The conflict has claimed the lives of Mapuche activists, police and farmers, while dozens of indigenous people have been sent to prison, mainly for crimes against property.