Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Spanish Correspondent Lost Visions In His Eye After Attack By Mounted Police In 2008

The police officer responsible for the May 2008 attack on photojournalist Víctor Salas has been identified by the civilian investigators, prompting a renewed call for justice from the victim’s lawyer and supporters.

“This is a milestone in terms of Special Forces officers,” said attorney Alfredo Morgado, who is representing Salas. “In cases like this they often hide behind a helmet and a uniform, which does not allow them to be identified [in extreme cases], which leads to impunity. That should change.”

Police investigators managed to identify the attacker, Sergeant Ivar Barría, using photographic evidence of Barria’s horse’s markings, a mare named “Altanera.”

Salas, the Chilean correspondent for the Spanish news agency EFE, was struck in the head by a mounted police officer while covering a May 21, 2008 protest in Valparaíso outside of President Michelle Bachelet’s annual speech. He has since lost vision in his right eye.

The Carabineros, Chile’s uniformed police service, are considered part of the military, causing Salas’s case to be heard in closed military courts. Salas’s was just one of many police brutality brought by demonstrators and journalists in recent years.

“Until now, your government has not publicly taken a position regarding an attack, which not only jeopardizes the professional future of one of the country’s most outstanding photographers, but also seriously jeopardizes compliance with international treaties related to the protection that governments must provide to news media workers,” Chile’s Graphic Reporters and Cameramen’s Union wrote in a letter to Bachelet after the incident.

In June, union president Max Montecinos and Morgado gave the military court 64 photographs taken by various photographers at the protest. The photos,  they said, would help identify the police officer responsible for the attack.

The civilian investigators said that they were able to identify Barria using the same evidence the Carabineros had at their disposal, after military prosecutor Rodrigo Lagos asked the civilian investigators for help in narrowing down the findings between Barria and another officer at the protest.

The identification has resulted in a renewed effort to bring Salas’s attacker to court, and to review laws involving punishment of police officers.


By Daniel Zarchy (

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