The United Nations Work Group on Arbitrary Detention has released a report calling the detention of activist Milagro Sala in Jujuy “arbitrary” and demanding her immediate release.
This report was issued in response to a claim originally filed in February by Amnesty International, the Centre of Legal and Social Studies (CELS), and Lawyers of the Argentine Northwest in Human Rights and Social Studies.
According to a note on CELS’ Facebook page, the report identifies a system of “consecutive accusations” and court cases that maintain Sala’s detention indefinitely and violate judicial independence. The report also denies any legal justification for her remand detention, arguing that “it has not been demonstrated that there is a risk of escape or of obstruction of the investigation.”
Political activist Sala – head of the Tupac Amaru organisation and an ally of the previous Kirchnerist administration – was originally detained on 16th January 2016 as she protested reforms to social spending being implemented by Jujuy’s provincial government, led by Cambiemos’ Gerardo Morales.
A month earlier, she had led dozens of social organisations in a protest camp outside the municipal building of San Salvador de Jujuy in response to Morales’ plan to reform the way social housing funds are distributed in the province.
Sala was arrested on charges of inciting criminal behaviour and disorder. The first charge is related to her leading people to set up the protest camp and blocking roads around the municipal building of San Salvador de Jujuy, something the court order ruled illegal. The second is on account of Sala allegedly encouraging cooperatives to not adhere to the government’s new requirements for participating in social programmes.
Sala’s arrest received criticism from a number of social and human rights groups, which claim that it sets a dangerous precedent for criminalising the right to protest. A key point, they note, is that Sala was originally detained on charges unrelated to wider accusations of corruption.
The judge ruled Sala’s release for the first charges on 29th January. However, three days before that, a second detention order was issued on charges of extortion, fraud, and conspiracy. According to a CELS chart chronicling the case, Sala was only notified of this accusation on 1st February. The court charged her with the crime just one hour later.
Members of the UN work group find that the state blocked Sala’s right to defence by not clearly presenting the facts of the charge and not adequately informing her of the crimes for which she was accused.
Sala’s detention, the Work Group claims, was issued as “a result of her exercising of her human rights.”
They demanded her immediate release, along with an investigation into the violation of her rights and assurance from the state that the situation will not repeat itself, asserting that “the Argentine state has the responsibility to fulfil the measures determined by the Work Group.”
In response, Morales’ government told La Nación that “for now it’s a recommendation from a work group, but it’s not definitive.”