By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean police special forces operative appeared in court on Friday over the blinding with rubber bullets of a student during protests over inequality in November last year.
Lieutenant Colonel Claudio Crespo was detained at his home in the capital Santiago early on Friday morning, the Chilean prosecutor's office said, on suspicion of being the officer who fired the shots that blinded Gustavo Gatica in both eyes.
Gatica, 22, a psychology student at a Santiago university, was one of two people blinded in both eyes by police rubber bullets. At least 400 more people were injured or blinded in one eye, according to Chile’s human rights watchdog, in a grisly feature of the protests that has driven anger towards the center-right government of President Sebastian Pinera.
The protests over inequality and elitism in Chile also resulted in at least 31 people killed, 3,000 injured, and 30,000 detained. Prosecutors are probing allegations of abuse made by over 5,000 people against the security forces.
The arrest comes before the first anniversary of the outbreak of protests on Oct. 18, and in anticipation of more amid the economic hardship wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
The delayed investigation into the Gatica shooting has provoked further criticism of the authorities. Gatica told Reuters in March this year that until justice was done in his case and others, people would continue to protest.
Crespo appeared before a court in Santiago on charges of grievous bodily harm and misconduct. A spokesman for Chile's investigative police said they did not rule out further arrests.
Jorge Martinez, a for Crespo, said his client denied responsibility for what happened and had been in a nearby church that was being looted at the time.
Neither the prosecutor's office nor the police responded to requests for comment.
Enrique Gatica, the victim's brother, told Reuters the family would "wait to see how the case progresses."
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)