Argentine political leaders demand immediate release of Indigenous activist Milagro Sala

Indigenous and social activist Milagro Sala has been under house arrest since January 16, 2016 over charges that activists allege are politically motivated

January 18, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Indigenous and social activist Milagro Sala has been detained since January 16, 2016. Photo: Committee for the freedom of Milagro Sala/Twitter

January 16, 2022, marked six years since the illegal detention of Indigenous and social activist Milagro Sala in Argentina. Sala, the leader of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Organization, was arrested in 2016, for allegedly inciting violence and chaos in the Jujuy province. She was also accused of sedition for organizing and leading a month-long protest in rejection of the changes imposed in the cooperative system by Governor Gerardo Morales of the then-ruling right-wing Cambiemos alliance.

Sala was one of the first victims of the political persecution that characterized the government of former president Mauricio Macri (2015 -2019). In response to her social protest demanding the continuity of 20,000 housing cooperative jobs, the Macri and Morales administration unleashed a campaign of persecution against her involving different criminal charges, without evidence, aimed exclusively at ensuring her indefinite detention, and pre-trial imprisonment.

Along with her, seven other members of the Tupak Amaru were also detained on false charges. Her organization, which had been providing thousands of poor Indigenous families with medical necessities, basic education, public services, and jobs in cooperatives, was also accused of fraud in relation to a housing construction program and had its legal status suspended.

Following her arrest, she was detained at the Alto Comedero prison in Jujuy until August 2017, after which she was placed in house arrest. Currently, she is facing charges in a total of 11 cases.

The mistreatment received by Sala has been condemned by national as well as international organizations including the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), Lawyers of the Northwest Argentina in Human Rights and Social Studies (ANDHES), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, among others.

This Sunday, on the sixth anniversary of Sala’s imprisonment, thousands of political, social and union leaders, as well as lawyers, intellectuals, and human rights organizations demanded her immediate release, describing her detention as arbitrary and illegal. In an open letter published in local media, human rights organizations, governors, ministers of the national government, and deputies and senators of the ruling left-wing Frente de Todos coalition, called for Sala’s freedom, stressing that “with political prisoners, we do not have full democracy”.

The signatories also expressed their concern and repudiation over the persecution and harassment suffered by Sala. They emphasized that the cases against Sala were results of a lawfare in Argentina, promoted and supported by the State to persecute and imprison political, social and union leaders.

The Minister of Women, Gender and Diversity, Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, who was Sala’s lawyer, in a statement to a local radio station, called on the Supreme Court to resolve one of the cases against the leader that has been waiting for a resolution for two years.

Meanwhile, thousands of Argentines took to social media platforms to express their support for Sala and demand her freedom. The Committee for the Freedom of Milagro Sala held a virtual meeting to demand an end to her political persecution.