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Human rights lawyer brutally assaulted by police, arrested on false charges during a protest in Argentina

Suddenly, one of them struck the back of my head with a powerful blow, leaving me on the brink of unconsciousness. They savagely beat me, intensifying the assault. I instinctively curled into a fetal position, but it proved futile. I tried to shield my head from their relentless blows and kicks. 

  • 3 weeks ago
  • July 3, 2024
7 min read
Human rights lawyer Matías Darabos was arrested and beaten during a demonstration at the federal educational march on April 23, 2024, in San Martín Square, Buenos Aires, Argentina. | Photo courtesy of Matías Darabos Human rights lawyer Matías Darabos was arrested and beaten during a demonstration at the federal educational march on April 23, 2024, in San Martín Square, Buenos Aires, Argentina. | Photo courtesy of Matías Darabos
Human Rights Lawyer Matías Darabos, a member of ACVI (Association Against Institutional Violence) and AMMAR (Association of Argentinean Women Merchant Workers), was arrested and beaten during a demonstration during the federal educational march, on April 23, in San Martín square (Retiro, CABA)
JOURNALIST’S NOTES
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Matías Darabos, a young lawyer who graduated with honors from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) last year, is an active member of the Association Against Institutional Violence (ACVI) and serves as legal counsel for the Argentinean Women Merchant Workers Association (AMMAR) 1. During the March Federal Universitaria in Buenos Aires, he joined thousands of others to advocate for accessible education. However, after the demonstration, he was brutally attacked by officers from the City Police. He then alleges they planted cannabis on him to justify his arrest and create a plausible scene. Darabos was charged with resisting authority and drug possession. He was later released.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, including students, professors, trade unionists, and political parties, took to the streets of Buenos Aires and other cities to protest against President Javier Milei’s austerity measures impacting public universities. This demonstration, one of the largest since Milei assumed office, opposed budget cuts that have pushed these institutions into financial crises and threatens their closure. The protests garnered widespread support, including from conservative politicians, private university administrators, and right-wing TV personalities, all united in defending public education as a cornerstone of Argentina’s social progress.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — On April 23, 2024, around 7:00 p.m., I headed to a friend’s house. A mass mobilization to defend public university education erupted in the city. As I crossed a nearby square, climbed some stairs, and went to a promenade, nausea overwhelmed me. Leaning against a tree, I struggled to catch my breath. In the fading light, I noticed three City of Buenos Aires police officers patrolling the area. Startled, I realized they surrounded me.

Two officers stood behind me, while the third confronted me directly. In a harsh tone, he demanded, “What are you doing here, you drunk shit? Are you going to pee?” Surprised, I asked him not to disrespect me and explained that I felt unwell. He cut me off, escalating the aggression: “Who the fuck do you think you are? Did you come from the march? Are you brave?” Then, the aggression increased, and they started beating me ruthlessly. 

Read more stories about police brutality at Orato World Media.

Police frame lawyer with drugs and handcuff him following severe beating

I saw an escalation in their aggression as I held my breath. I informed them that I am a lawyer and requested their names and credentials. They responded by refusing and mocking me. Among the officers, I noticed a woman named Lara Coria; her name badge remained visible on her uniform. She promptly turned her badge around when she realized I was reading her name.

Suddenly, one of them struck the back of my head with a powerful blow, leaving me on the brink of unconsciousness. They savagely beat me, intensifying the assault. I instinctively curled into a fetal position, but it proved futile. I tried to shield my head from their relentless blows and kicks. 

They lifted me, handcuffed me, and placed me on a bench in the dimly lit square, battered, bloodied, and disoriented. Struggling with the handcuffs, I managed to retrieve my cell phone from my pocket. Two boys approached, briefly distracting the police before the officers forcibly removed them. In those precious seconds, I contacted a colleague and shared my harrowing experience and location. I began recording the officers as they continued their assault, accusing me of resisting authority.

I lay there, unable to move and badly injured. The pain and fear overwhelmed me. I overheard them discussing their excessive use of force, planning to frame me by planting marijuana in my backpack. Uncertainty surrounded me, leaving me clueless about what lay ahead; everything felt surreal and chaotic.

Facing false charges, lawyer endures harsh cell conditions and pressure to confess

Surrounded by more troops, the scene flickered with red and blue lights as sirens blared. Yet, no one intervened. The policemen closed ranks and sealed their actions in a pact of silence. For hours, I remained disfigured. I pleaded to use the bathroom, but they forced me into a patrol car and transported me to the nearest police station

My face appeared broken, bloodied, and swollen. The pain seared through me where they kicked me in the head and body. Yet, when I arrived at the police station, I faced charges of resisting arrest. They took my fingerprints and led me down to a cramped basement. The room teemed with about 20 detainees. Mattresses laid on the floor and clothes hung haphazardly. Some had been there for years, though it was supposedly a transit area. 

Matias Darabos is a young lawyer specializing in Human Rights and a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. | Photo courtesy of Matias Darabos

Throughout the night, the forensic doctor and ombudsman visited, interrupting my stay in that hellish place as they assessed my condition. My face grew more swollen with time, my eyes barely open and my body numb. In the early morning hours, a policeman escorted me from the basement to a small room. Alongside other officers, he pressured me to confess, but I stood firm and refused to yield

Lawyer files complaint after 15-hour detention

Amidst irregularities and illegalities, I received a cell phone and conducted an interview with my lawyer via Zoom. The situation felt dire: five policemen provided testimonial statements claiming I ran from them, tripped, and injured my face against the ground. They explained away the wounds I bore. They also instructed me to refuse to testify during the hearing. However, when my lawyers saw my battered state, we realized the police account was impossible to believe.

I eventually obtained release with a restraining order that mandated I remain within 500 meters away from the crime scene and report to the prosecutor’s office every 15 days. The unjust detention for 15 hours left me physically and emotionally shattered. Upon my emergence, my colleagues, who anxiously awaited my release, embraced me. Their eyes reflected my own disbelief and the acknowledgement of my condition.

My team took photos, circulated them online, and captured evidence of my ordeal. Determined not to waste a moment, we headed to the Institutional Violence Prosecutor’s Office (PROCUVIN) and filed a complaint. The police portrayed me as a drug possessor resisting arrest—an irregular procedure that reflects a disturbing trend. The City police hold a deep-rooted belief that anyone who disagrees with them deserves a beating.

Victim experiences persistent fear of encountering officers as Prosecutor’s Office fails to act

We filed a complaint, and the Prosecutor’s Office promised an investigation, but we remain unaware of any action. They denied our request for evidence, including access to surveillance footage and tracking data held by the city police. This evidence could substantiate our claims that the officers surrounded me, beat me, and planted something in my backpack. Yet, they show no intention of investigating.

During those hours, I refrained from eating due to the knot in my stomach. After leaving the prosecutor’s office, I sought solace at home with my family. When I first returned home, I saw my father’s concerned gaze meet my tearful face. His age and health issues exacerbated my distress. He scrutinized my face as if attempting to soothe me while I could not stop crying. I became very upset and attempted to calm him down. Then, my sister rushed in, arms open wide, offering relief.

Fear grips me as the warning to be cautious still echoes in my mind. I avoid going to public places alone to this day. These officers, who constantly threaten violence, continue to roam the streets, posing a significant threat. The possibility that they could harm someone at any moment is a constant worry. Although we filed as plaintiffs, our case lacks evidence, and the prosecution’s apparent lack of will leaves us feeling helpless and uncertain. It is terrifying because their actions suggest they can act with impunity, a situation that must not be allowed to recur.

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