editor's corner

Editor’s Pick

1 December 2016

THE CHILEAN GENERAL AUGUSTO PINOCHET salutes the honour guard outside his home on 11 September 1973: the day he led a military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government. Pinochet, whom Allende had appointed commander-in-chief of Chile’s military just 18 days earlier, went on to rule the country until 1990. His autocratic reign was marked by widespread violence and human-rights violations, including the torture, detainment and murder of thousands.

Pinochet kept the press under strict control. Immediately after the coup, the military shut down all media outlets that had supported Allende. Hundreds of journalists lost their jobs and had to flee the country over the course of the dictatorship. Some faced worse: 23 journalists were “disappeared”—kidnapped and most likely murdered—by Pinochet’s regime.

The outlets that were allowed to continue operating were subject to heavy censorship, especially when they reported on social unrest. In the 1980s, the government passed a law that prohibited the press from “distinguishing or emphasising subjects, events or conduct” that might cause “the disturbance of public order”—severely restricting journalism on protests or any kind of opposition to Pinochet. The novelist Isabel Allende, who is Salvador Allende’s niece, and was a journalist during the dictatorship, said in a 2013 interview, “Fear is a very powerful tool and Pinochet used it successfully. He controlled the military, the judiciary and there was no Congress; there was no freedom of the press, no habeas corpus, no right to dissent.”

Pinochet stepped down from the presidency in 1990, but retained the role of commander-in-chief of the armed forces until 1998, after which he became a senator for life. Later that year, while visiting London, he was extradited to Spain to account for the torture of Spanish citizens that occurred under his rule. He was sent back home in 2000, after the court declared him physically unfit to stand trial. Pinochet lived in Chile until his death in 2006. Despite several attempts, he was never tried in his own country for the human-rights abuses perpetrated by his regime.

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