SANTIAGO, Chile – Prosecutors in Chile asked for murder charges Wednesday in the death of a young gay man whose attackers brutally beat him and carved swastikas into his body.
Daniel Zamudio died Tuesday night, 25 days after he was attacked. The case has prompted a national debate in Chile over hate crimes, with President Sebastian Pinera saying from Asia that his government won't rest until a proposed anti-discrimination law is passed.
Four suspects have been jailed on attempted murder charges, some of whom already have criminal records for attacks on gays.
Hours after Zamudio's death, prosecutor Ernesto Vazquez formally requested that the charges be changed to premeditated murder, carrying maximum life sentences if convicted. He said the attack was clearly motivated by homophobia.
Gay activists weren't satisfied. The leader of Chile's Gay Liberation and Integration Movement, Rolando Jimenez, said the suspects should be charged with torture as well.
Zamudio, a clothing store salesman, was attacked in a park in Santiago on March 3. The suspects allegedly beat him for an hour, burning him with cigarettes and carving Nazi symbols into his body.
The second of four brothers, he had hoped to study theater, his brother Diego said. "He was very loving, an excellent person and that's why it's so hard to believe that they attacked him with such hate," he told reporters.
Hundreds of people had been holding vigil outside the hospital where Zamudio lay brain-dead, building a shrine on the sidewalk. Many whistled and booed when Interior Minister Rodrigo
Hinzpeter, the acting president while Sebastian Pinera is traveling in Asia, arrived to share condolences Tuesday night. The commotion ended only when Zamudio's father appealed for them to maintain respect.
"We are going to work tirelessly in our Congress to pass our anti-discrimination law as quickly as possible," Hinzpeter said to reporters outside the hospital after visiting the family Tuesday night.
An ample Senate majority passed the law in November, but seven years after it was first proposed, it has yet to come to a vote in the lower house. Lobbyists for evangelical churches said it would be a first step toward gay marriage, which Chile forbids and which is not explicitly included in the measure.
It would describe as illegal discrimination "any distinction, exclusion or restriction that lacks reasonable justification, committed by agents of the state or individuals, and that causes the deprivation, disturbance or threatens the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights established by the constitution or in international human rights treaties ratified by Chile."
Attorney Gabriel Zaliasnik told the Cooperativa radio station Wednesday that if the law had been passed, the attack on Zamudio might have been avoided.
Pinera tweeted from South Korea that the "brutal and cowardly attack of Daniel Zamudio wounds not only his family but all people of good will."
"His death will not remain unpunished, and reinforces the complete commitment of the government against all arbitrary discrimination and for a more tolerant country."
The jailed suspects are Raul Alfonso Lopez, 25; Alejandro Axel Angulo Tapia, 26; Patricio Ahumada Garay, 25; and Fabian Mora Mora, 19. They remain in preventive detention after blaming others in the group for the attack.
Lopez allegedly told police that he saw Angulo and Ahumada carve three swastikas into Zamudio with a broken pisco sour bottle. Ahumada's public defender, Nestor Perez, said his client wasn't involved in the attack and isn't a neo-Nazi.