We, the undersigned, condemn the sentences handed out to nine workers of the Las Heras oil refinery in Santa Cruz province, Argentina by the Caleta Olivia Criminal Court on December 13. Four of them, one of whom was a minor at the time, have been sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of killing police officer Jorge Sayago in 2006. The remaining five have been sentenced to five years, charged with ‘aggravated coercion’.
No evidence of their guilt was produced at the trial and they were convicted on the basis of false testimonies obtained by methods that violate human rights. Sayago died during the wave of protests in Santa Cruz against the additional tax on incomes and for better working conditions and salaries.
We demand the acquittal of the workers on the basis that the trial was a travesty of justice.
Despite constant intimidation from the judges, the defence team was able to prove that there was no evidence linking the workers to Sayago’s death. In fact, the only thing that was incontestable was that the oil workers were subjected to torture, unlawful coercion, ill treatment and threats at the hands of the provincial police force during the three years that they were in custody, to make them incriminate themselves. These methods remind us of those used under the military dictatorship. To everyone’s amazement, the prosecuting attorney even justified the ill treatment, saying that “a bag over the head and a couple of slaps on the face” could not be called torture.
We condemn the treatment of the accused and the practices of the Caleta Olivia Criminal Court.
The large number of complaints presented by the defence team during the proceedings – supported by hundreds of human rights groups, political organisations, campaigns and trade unions – forced the Secretary of State for Human Rights to request an enquiry into the trial.
The harsh sentences received by the workers are amongst the worst since the return to democracy in 1983. They are aimed at preventing workers from standing up to the big oil companies and other large corporations. Moreover, they establish a precedent for the justice system to rely on confessions obtained under torture in the future.
On February 5, an appeal will be presented to the High Court in Río Gallegos, the capital of Santa Cruz province, asking for the annulment of the sentences.
We demand the immediate and unconditional acquittal of the oil workers of Las Heras.
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