Just hours after 21 simultaneous raids on the home of Argentine Indigenous leader Milagro Sala, a provincial court ordered Friday a one-year extraordinary extension of her pre-trial detention. Sala is 21 days short of serving two years in prison.
The political leader is being investigated for alleged illicit association, fraud and extortion, crimes she was charged with days after being detained for allegedly instigating violence during a protest she didn't attend.
Sala was initially arrested on Jan. 16, 2016 for an “escrache”, a form of protest that seeks to publicly shame someone by congregating around their homes, against Jujuy province governor, an ally of President Mauricio Macri. Shortly after on Jan. 29 of that same year Sala was cleared of the instigation charges, but the judge determined that she would remain in detention over new charges of illicit association, fraud and extortion, which she is currently facing.
According to Sala’s lawyer the main reason for the extension is that her defense presented “innumerable” appeals and nullities. “This lacks sense,” her lawyers contended because “everything presented is within the framework of the right to legal defence.”
The one-year extension is not the first arbitrary decision made by Jujuy’s judiciary. In October 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention qualified her detention as arbitrary, a decision backed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which urged Argentina's government to release her.
The Organization of American States and human rights’ groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also demanded her immediate release to no avail.
Milagro Sala is a renowned activist who is seen as President Macri's first political prisoner. She created the Organization Tupac Amaru, which provides housing and other services to informal workers and popular sectors, she served as an Argentine legislator between 2013 and 2015, and was later elected by the Front for Victory Party, led by former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, to Mercosur’s Parliament.
News of the one-year extension to Sala’s illegitimate imprisonment were accompanied by news of thousands of Argentines protesting the federal ruling that granted house arrest for convicted murderer and torturer Miguel Etchecolatz, who was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity when he worked as a top police officer under the brutal military dictatorship of the 1970s.
He is not the only one. According to Argentina's Office of Crimes Against Humanity, 549 of people convicted for crimes against humanity in Argentina are currently under house arrest.
Social leaders and opponents of the current right wing government argue that in Macri’s Argentina social and political activists are repressed, prosecuted, and disappeared while those who repress and abuse their power are granted favors.