Argentina told by UN to release jailed activist Milagro Sala

Argentina's Tupac Amaru social movement leader Milagro Sala takes part in a ceremony in honor of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, in Jujuy, Argentina. .
Argentina's Tupac Amaru social movement leader Milagro Sala takes part in a ceremony in honor of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, in Jujuy, Argentina. . Paula Ribas/Telam via AP

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A United Nations panel says Argentina has arbitrarily detained activist Milagro Sala and is calling for the government to release her immediately.

Sala is the head of Argentina’s Tupac Amaru social movement and won a seat last year in the regional parliament of the Mercosur group of South American nations. She was arrested Jan. 16 and accused of “inciting criminal acts” connected to a protest she led against authorities. The Jujuy provincial government in northern Argentina then broadened the claims, saying her movement “embezzled in public funds.”

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that over time, there was a scheme of “consecutive accusations” and the start of judicial cases to indefinitely deprive Sala of her freedom. It also said the state blocked her right to a proper defence because of a lack of specificity and clarity about the accusations.

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The panel concluded that there are no legal elements to justify Sala’s pre-trial detention and that the principle of judicial independence in the case is being violated. It said she is not a risk to flee or to block the investigation.

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Argentina’s government did not comment immediately on the U.N. findings. A phone call to a presidency spokeswoman was not answered.

The resolution was approved Aug. 24 but wasn’t made public until Friday, when it was released by the Argentine human rights group Center for Legal and Social Studies. The finding came in response to a complaint filed by the Argentine group and other human rights organizations.

“The importance of this decision can’t be exaggerated,” said Horacio Verbitsky, the group’s president. “It’s so important because (since she was arrested) in January, every Argentine has been on parole … now it’s time for the Argentine state to decide.”

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Sala, a close ally of former President Cristina Fernandez, is accused of irregularly managing money that she received during Fernandez’s administration for the construction of lower income housing in Jujuy province. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Her supporters say she only looks to benefit the poor. They call her arrest a political move by provincial Gov. Gerardo Morales and other political allies of current President Mauricio Macri.

Sala’s lawyer, Elizabeth Gomez Alcorta, said she called her client Friday to tell her about the U.N. panel’s resolution.

“She’s thankful that the power of truth and reason have prevailed and have been heard,” Gomez Alcorta said.

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