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Amnesty, CELS seek IACHR action on Sala

A group of activists in Paraná, Entre Ríos gather to call for the release of Milagro Sala.
A group of activists in Paraná, Entre Ríos gather to call for the release of Milagro Sala.
A group of activists in Paraná, Entre Ríos gather to call for the release of Milagro Sala.

Call for social leader to be set free

Amnesty International, the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the ANDHES group of lawyers from Northeastern Argentina yesterday called on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) to issue injunctions guaranteeing the freedom of social leader Milagro Sala as well as “the right to freedom of expression and the right to protest in Jujuy.”

Jailing Sala amounts to “a devastating blow to the freedom of expression,” the organizations said in their writ.

The case was taken to the IACHR three days after Sala was jailed on charges of public disturbance and inciting crimes in San Salvador de Jujuy, some 1,500 kilometres north of Buenos Aires City.

The 51-year old leader of the Tupac Amaru organization had called for a sit-in in Plaza Belgrano demanding a meeting with Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales after the provincial leader signed a decree modifying the legal status of cooperatives in the province. Last week, the provincial government decided to press charges against her and on Saturday a judge ordered her arrest.

“We’re witnessing a clear attempt to criminalize the right to protest,” said Mariela Belski, the head of Amnesty International Argentina. “Penal laws cannot be used to intimidate and threaten social organizations and to silence their complaints.”

Morales, a Macri ally and member of the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) coalition, has since filed another criminal complaint against Sala for alleged embezzlement of 29 million pesos in public funds.

Although insisting that he had nothing to do with the move, Macri defended Judge Raúl Gutiérrez’s arrest order against the Túpac Amaru leader.

“I think it’s a good thing that judges can step up to defend the law,” the Let’s Change leader said during an interview on Monday with foreign correspondents.

The decision to jail the divisive social leader was made “by independent judges that didn’t ask me nor the governor” beforehand, the president said. “Several cases have been opened against her.”

Salas’ arrest came a month after the Jujuy provincial legislature on December 15 approved Morales’ proposal to expand the High Court of Justice (STJ) from five to nine members during extraordinary sessions. Three days later, provincial lawmakers Pablo Baca and Beatriz Elizabeth Altamirano, both from Morales’ Radical (UCR) party, resigned their posts since they had already been nominated for the provincial highest court.

Earlier this month, the provincial government filed a criminal complaint against prosecutor Darío Osinaga because he did not pursue criminal action against Sala.

A landmark case

According to CELS, ANDHES and the local chapter of Amnesty, Sala’s arrest takes place “as leaders from the Túpac Amaru grassroot organization and the Network of Social Organizations in Jujuy (ROS) are being harassed and criminally profiled for joining a popular protest in that province.”

“These actions included the arbitrary arrest of Milagro Sala, a well-known leader of Túpac Amaru and lawmaker for the Parlasur regional body,” the organizations said in a press release.

The petition filed before the IACHR noted the situation was serious considering criminal prosecution against Sala and three other social leaders “was solely based on a protest” that led to the provincial government’s order to evict demonstrators from Plaza Belgrano.

“In this context ... there’s no need for the accused to be remanded in custody,” human rights organizations said.

The Buenos Aires Provincial Commission for Memory (CPM) also condemned the jailing of Sala.

“Organizing collective action does not mean ‘inciting crimes,’ a massive demonstration is not ‘public disturbance’ and to oppose a government decision (in reference to the cooperatives decree) is not ‘an act of sedition.’ They are all democratic freedoms,” the CPM said.

The IACHR was established by the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1979. On Sunday, the head of the OAS Luis Almagro said he was “worried” about Sala’s arrest.

The Túpac Amaru leader was elected Parlasur lawmaker last year, but members of the Mercosur congressional body do not enjoy immunity from arrest following a decision made in October last year by the National Electoral Court.

The situation in Jujuy

A group of national lawmakers from leftist parties and leaders of the Socialist Workers’ Movement (MST) led by former legislator Vilma Ripoll yesterday visited Sala in prison and said they had notified Judge Gastón Mercau — who is now leading the case after Gutiérrez excused himself for health reasons — of their complaints.

Ripoll said she and other political leaders are also planning to file a petition before the IACHR.

On Monday, Mercau rejected an habeas corpus plea made by Sala’s lawyer, meaning the leader of the Kirchnerite organization will continue to be behind bars in a police station in the provincial capital. That same day, Kirchnerite leaders and members of leftist parties crowded Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires demanding she be released from jail.

“They aren’t respecting us. Every day they are doing something to us. It’s been a month that we‘ve been living in hell,” said Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo head Estela Barnes de Carlotto, in reference to the Let’s Change administration.

Herald staff with DyN, Télam

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