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Five Prisoners of Conscience

The cases of the five prisoners of conscience that follow have been compiled by Amnesty International and the representative of those of many other Uruguayan political prisoners who have been imprisoned for their nonviolent political views. Anyone in Uruguay who voices criticism of government policies is liable to the charge of “attack on the moral strength of the Armed Forces.” (Since 1973, twenty-six national newspapers and five local newspapers, as well as numerous trade union publications, have been closed by the Uruguayan government.) These cases also illustrate Amnesty International’s concern about several aspects of political imprisonment in Uruguay: lack of legal safeguards at the time of arrest; long periods of incommunicado detention; maltreatment, “disappearance” and torture; military jurisdiction over civilians; and poor prison conditions.

Colonel Carlos Zufriategui

Colonel Carlos Zufriategui was interim head of the army staff (Estado Mayor del Ejército) from 1968 to 1969. He attended courses in the United States and gave lectures at the Inter-American Defense College.

He was first arrested on July 9, 1973, with Seregni and Licandro. The first indictment charged him retroactively for his joint responsibility for the Frente Amplio communiqué issued shortly after the military coup d’état of June 27, 1973. He was granted provisional liberty on February 14, 1975, but was rearrested, on February 2, 1976, and taken to a house in Punta Gorda which had originally belonged to a member of the guerrilla movement MLN-Tupamaros, but which had been confiscated by the armed forces. The house, which is reportedly under the command of a notorious torturer, had been turned into a torture center. Colonel Zufriategui was hung by the wrists and made to believe that he would be executed immediately. He was pressed to accuse General Seregni of having participated in the meetings of the “Plan Contragolpe” or at least of having knowledge of the meetings.

He was charged with making an “attack on the Constitution” by the military juez de instrucción (examining magistrate). The prosecution asked that a sentence of eight years be passed against Zufriategui, but in July 1978 he was sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment.

Colonel Zufriategui is an elderly man. He is married and has a son. He has reportedly been subjected to various forms of torture: electric shock torture; submarino (submersion, often in filthy water or excrement, until one is nearly drowned); plantón (prolonged standing in a fixed position); beatings. On two occasions he has been interned in the Military Hospital with severe bruises and leg paralysis. He has recently been operated on for a tumor in the Military Hospital and is being held at the Cárcel Central at Police Headquarters.

Rita Ibarburú de Suarez

Rita Ibarburú de Suarez, aged sixty-three, a veteran Uruguayan journalist, was arrested in late October 1975, during a wave of arrests of members and alleged members of the Communist Party of Uruguay. She is charged with “subversive association” because of her political views expressed through her journalism and membership in the Communist Party of Uruguay, which was banned in 1973 after a long parliamentary tradition. Like most political prisoners in Uruguay, Rita Ibarburú is held under the Law of National Security 1972 which brings civilians under military justice.

It is reported that Rita Ibarburú was severely tortured during her initial incommunicado detention at the Fifth Artillery Regiment in Montevideo. In mid-1976, she was transferred to the military prison for women, Establecimiento Militar de Reclusión No. 2 (also known as Penal de Punta Rieles), where she shared a cell with her sister, who had also been arrested in 1975. In June 1978 it was reported that Rita Ibarburú had suffered a heart attack as a result of the prison regime of forced physical labor. The authorities later denied that Rita Ibarburú had suffered a heart attack and claimed that she suffered from a congenital heart ailment and was receiving proper medical treatment. According to the prisoner’s husband, who now lives in exile in Europe, Rita Ibarburú had never shown signs of heart trouble prior to her detention in 1975. She was denied family visits during her recuperation in prison.

The case of Rita Ibarburú resembles that of many other Uruguayan journalists who have been imprisoned for their political views. The Report of the Inter-American Press Association Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information meeting in Cartagena, Spain, in March 1977, states: “There is no freedom of press (in Uruguay). Government authorities have established the mechanism for written censorship and telephone warnings; they require copies of all press dispatches by foreign correspondents, some of whom have been arrested for short periods of time; they have prohibited the distribution of certain Argentine newspapers.”

Rita Ibarburú was former editor of the magazine Nosotras and editing secretary of the magazine Estudios. She remains imprisoned in the Penal de Punta Rieles, where she is in poor health.

Alfonso Avelino Fernández Cabrelli

Alfonso Avelino Fernández Cabrelli, aged sixty, a well-known municipal lawyer, historian, and journalist, has been held by the Uruguayan authorities since 1976, charged under Article 58 of the military penal code with “offenses that affect the morale of the Armed Forces.”

In an official communiqué dated September 9, 1976, the authorities charged that Fernández Cabrelli had attempted in his book Los Orientales (published in 1971) to “influence the reader’s subconscious” by distorting historical events in Uruguay and drawing parallels between the nineteenth-century hero of Uruguayan independence General Artigas, Camilo Torres, and “Che” Guevara. The authorities further stated that the book contains numerous passages which “strongly criticize the measures taken by the Uruguayan government to preserve our national values and to protect against Marxist penetration.”

Fernández Cabrelli was the director of the monthly magazine Para Todos (“For Everyone”) which published nineteen issues from February 1971 until November 1972, when it was banned by the authorities. He was also the director of the series Grito de Ascencio which included several political and historical publications, among them Torturas Uruguay 70, Artigas, Militares y Pueblo, and Citas del Prócer.

Sr. Fernández Cabrelli, who is being held in Establecimiento Penitenciario du Punta Carretas, has recently been sentenced to three and a half years in prison; his appeal is pending.

Alberto Altesor

Alberto Altesor, aged sixty-five, a former deputy in the Uruguayan Congress, was arrested on October 21, 1975, in Montevideo for his membership in the Communist Party and leadership of the Uruguayan Union of Railway Workers. Despite efforts by his wife to locate him, no official notification of his detention was given by the authorities until nearly two months later.

From people who were detained with him and later freed, his family gradually obtained details of his treatment and place of detention. He was first taken to a private house and later transferred to Infantry Battalion No. 13 (also known as El Infierno—Hell—because of the brutal tortures inflicted on detainees). While there he was subjected to beatings, electric shocks, and hours of enforced standing.

On December 14, 1975, he was transferred to Artillery Battalion No. 5 where he was held alone in a room, handcuffed, and hooded. His food consisted of coffee with milk and two plates of soup a day. His family was not permitted to bring him food until September 1976 and then only in limited quantities.

On September 24, 1976, nearly a year after his arrest, Alberto Altesor was charged under Article 60 (V) of the military penal code with “subversive association.” These charges are connected with his trade union activities and membership in the Communist Party. On May 31, 1978, he was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

In January 1977, he was transferred to the Liberated Prison (Establecimiento Militar de Reclusión No. 1), where his treatment for a serious heart condition has reportedly improved. His family and lawyer are permitted to visit him once a week and he is able to mix with other prisoners and take short walks in the prison grounds. His case has been taken up by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Eugenio Salvador Bernal Pérez

Eugenio Salvador Bernal Pérez, aged fifty-six, a Spanish national and professional photographer, was detained on July 5, 1977, at his photography studio in Montevideo. Shortly after his detention, his wife was instructed by the authorities to take clothing and personal articles to the former military secondary school. Military personnel accepted the articles, but gave her no information on the whereabouts of her husband. It was later reported that Sr. Bernal was first held in the 6th Cavalry Regiment, where he was severely tortured, and eventually transferred to the main military prison for men, Penal de Liberated (EMR No. 1).

On August 31, 1977, Sr. Bernal was charged with “assisting a subversive association” under Article 60 (VI) of the military penal code. On February 14, 1978, his case went before the Juzgado Militar del 2 Turno (military magistrate). According to the Uruguayan authorities, Sr. Bernal is in detention for developing photographs for the banned Communist Party of Uruguay. Reliable sources outside Uruguay report that the photographer may have developed some photographs taken by an army official of torture methods practiced by the armed forces of Uruguay.

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