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Brave women testify to Pinochet regime sex abuse

Socialist activists tell of fascist abuse

FOUR women who say they were sexually tortured as political prisoners following Chile's 1973 fascist coup have testified in support of a complaint they hope will bring to light dictatorship-era rapes that have been buried by fear, shame and silence.

The allegations were made in a complaint filed in May and the women gave their testimony to Chilean judge Mario Carroza this week.

They are being allowed to raise the decades-old charges because of international human rights accords recently signed by Chile, said Mr Carroza, a specialist in crimes against humanity who is presiding over the case.

The women also are pressing Chile to update its 140-year-old penal code to classify the rape of political prisoners and torture as political crimes, which would subject violators to harsher sentences than currently allowed.

"We demand that the Chilean government, that the authorities and the state, change the laws and accept that this sort of sexual torture exists," said Nieves Ayress, 66, a teacher and community activist now living in New York.

Ms Ayress was a 25-year-old socialist activist when she was detained in 1974 along with her father and 15-year-old brother. Upon her release in 1976 she was forced into exile.

She appeared before Carroza late Monday to present her testimony and underwent examinations to document the lasting psychological impact and physical scars she bears as a result of the alleged assaults - including being penetrated with rats and dogs and ordering her father and brother to rape her, though the rape wouldn't actually take place.

It is unclear when Mr Carroza will formally accept the case and start the investigation that could lead to criminal charges.

Cristian Castillo, director of the memorial site created at a former torture centre known as Villa Grimaldi, said he has no doubt other victims will be emboldened to speak out "as a result of the declarations by these women that specifically denounce this crime against humanity."

Officials say more than 40,000 people were victims of the dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet, including more than 3,000 who were killed.

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