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Argentinian woman remembers ‘Night of the Pencils’

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Summary of story from BBC News, September 16, 2011

Thirty-five years ago, Emilce Moler and nine other students were abducted near Buenos Aires in what became one of the most notorious cases of abuse under Argentinian military rule.

Masked men raided the students’ homes on 16 and 17 September 1976 on what was later called the “Night of the Pencils” – a night of imprisonment, torture and death.

Six of the students – aged 16 to 18 – were never seen again.

Ms Moler, one of the four survivors, described how she was abducted:

“A group of armed men stormed into my house looking for me. When I came out of my bedroom, in my nightclothes, they seemed very surprised as I looked much younger than my 17 years.”

Ms Moler belonged to the student union, which had links to an urban guerrilla group called the Montoneros. The military regarded the 10 students as subversives.

The masked men put a hood over Ms Moler’s head and took her to a detention centre in La Plata:

“They tortured us with profound sadism. I remember being naked. I was just a fragile small girl of about 1.5m and weighed about 47kg, and I was beaten senseless by what I judged was a huge man.

“He didn’t even ask me coherent questions.”

The students’ story was told in a 1986 film, “The Night of the Pencils”, directed by Hector Olivera. The story became one of the most famous among the events of the dictatorship, which ruled the country from 1976 to 1983.

Around 30,000 political dissidents are believed to have been murdered by security forces, including 250 under age 18. The Commission Against the Disappearance of Persons estimated in 1984 that some of the victims were as young as 13.

Ms Moler says she rebuilt her life with the help of her then-boyfriend, who waited for her to be released. They are now married and have three children.

But memories of life under military rule are still painful.

“I hardly have any of the friends I had when I was young. Most of them were disappeared, or those who survived suffered torture or imprisonment.”

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