A former police chaplain went on trial on Thursday, the first Roman Catholic cleric to be prosecuted on charges of complicity in deaths and disappearances during Argentina's 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship.
Christian Von Wernich, 69, wore a bulletproof vest and a priest's collar as he appeared behind a reinforced glass shield in a federal courthouse in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province.
The shouts of "assassin!" from some 200 activists protesting outside could be heard in the chamber as a clerk read charges accusing Von Wernich of collaborating with state security agents and covering up crimes in seven deaths, 31 cases of torture and 42 cases of illegal imprisonment.
The prosecution said it would call survivors to testify that Von Wernich had collaborated with police torturers and provided security agents with information he obtained from prisoners while giving "spiritual assistance" at clandestine detention centers.
Prosecutor Sergio Franco alleged that Von Wernich had "direct contact" with detainees and even inflicted psychological "torments" on victims being held in illegal confinement and subject to physical torture by police repressors.
Von Wernich, who was arrested in 2003, declined to make an opening statement on the advice of his lawyer, who vehemently rejected the charges and promised a vigorous defense.
Nearly 13,000 people are officially listed as killed or missing in the dictatorship's crackdown on dissent, known as the "Dirty War." Human rights groups say the toll is closer to 30,000.
Scores of former state security agents and their civilian allies have been called to testify in investigations after the Supreme Court in 2005 annulled a pair of 1980s amnesty laws sheltering them from prosecution.
The head of the three-judge panel, Carlos Rozanski, said the court was taking unprecedented steps to protect prosecution witnesses in Von Wernich's trial.
Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, who has made human rights a priority of his government, called the trial another step toward achieving justice for past abuses.
Kirchner said he expected "justice but not vengeance" to be meted out.
"There are priests ... who give honor to their country and their church and then there are priests, who thank God, are held accountable by the justice system," said Kirchner, adding Von Wernich had "dishonored the church."
But a group supportive of right-wing former military officers said the trial was a farce and that former leftist guerrillas responsible for past political violence were not being subjected to prosecution.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big
China on Thursday lashed out at the US at a high-level UN meeting over its criticism on the COVID-19 pandemic, with its envoy declaring, “Enough is enough.” Two days after US President Donald Trump used his annual address to the General Assembly to attack China’s record, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, also took an outraged tone — after which her Chinese counterpart showed palpable anger. “I must say, enough is enough. You have created enough troubles for the world already,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) told a Security Council meeting on global governance attended through videoconference