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Chilean court imposes heavier sentences on German cult leaders

Chile's highest court has increased the prison sentences for three Germans who led the infamous "Colonia Dignidad." The German commune was the site of child molestations and other human rights abuses from 1961.

A court in the Chilean capital, Santiago, has lengthened by one year sentences already imposed on three Germans found guilty of forming a criminal organization at "Colonia Dignidad," a German colony located in the Andean foothills.

The three men - Kurt Schnellenkamp, Gerhard Mücke and Karl van den Berg - were among the leaders of the commune, now called "Villa Baviera," where systematic child abuse took place between 1961 and 1997. They have now been sentenced to five years and one day in prison.

The 15,000-hectare (37,066-acre) settlement, sealed off from the rest of the world, was also used as a secret detention and torture center for political prisoners during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet from 1973-1990. Several opponents of the Pinochet regime were murdered there.

Chile Colonia Dignidad Paul Schäfer (picture-alliance/dpa)

Paul Schäfer was arrested in Argentina in 2005

The court also handed down similar sentences to former Chilean intelligence agents Fernando Gomez and Pedro Espinoza. Four other defendants were released.

"Colonia Dignidad" was founded in 1961 by cult leader Paul Schäfer, an ex-Nazi corporal, who fled Germany for Chile with 250 followers after authorities in his home country began to investigate him for sexual abuse of children.

Schäfer was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2006 for his role at the "Colonia Dignidad," and died in prison in 2010, aged 88.

tj/se (dpa, EFE)

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