The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), Amnesty International and Andhes (Lawyers for Human Rights and Social Studies in Argentina’s Northwest) solicited on Tuesday that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) grant precautionary measures to guarantee the liberty of Milagro Sala, who was detained arbitrarily, along with the exercise of freedom of expression and the right to social protest in Jujuy province in light of government moves to intimidate Sala and other demonstrators belonging to the ROS Network of Social Organizations of Jujuy.
In October 2015, Gerardo Morales of the Radical Civic Union party was elected governor of Jujuy. For years, Morales locked horns politically with the Tupac Amaru neighborhood organization led by Milagro Sala, and with her in particular. Just after taking office on December 10, Morales required that cooperatives reregister with the government, a measure that directly affected Tupac Amaru and other members of the ROS Network. On December 14 organizations from the network began demonstrating in the main square of Jujuy’s capital city, in front of the provincial government building, to request that a formal dialogue be initiated between them and the governor’s office. Since that day, and with their demands unmet, the activists have set up camp around the square.
In recent days, in the context of this protest by Jujuy’s social movements, leaders of Tupac Amaru and the ROS Network have been victims of harassment and criminal persecution, which included the arbitrary detention of Milagro Sala, who is a member of Parlasur, the parliamentary institution of the Mercosur trade bloc. Sala’s detention is being used as a form of extortion to limit social organizations’ right to protest and to freedom of expression, in violation of rights enshrined in the National Constitution and international human rights treaties that, it is worth stressing, Argentina is obligated to comply with.
Milagro Sala stands accused of inciting the crime of obstructing traffic by organizing the protest, and of sedition for resisting a provincial measure related to the work of cooperatives in which she participates. Jujuy’s provincial government and its courts are making use of these two offenses to criminalize the protest through vague accusations. Based on a formalistic interpretation, Sala’s detention is contrary to international standards on the right to protest; it was also ordered in an arbitrary manner and the procedure was fraught with irregularities. In criminal proceedings involving such crimes or offenses, with these characteristics, the accused cannot be subject to pre-trial detention.
The arbitrary deprivation of liberty in response to social protest not only causes irreparable harm to those directly involved, but it also serves to intimidate the community as a whole. In our written request to the Inter-American Commission, we warned: “The seriousness (of the situation) is revealed by the initiation of a criminal persecution based exclusively on the carrying out of a protest, which has resulted in the criminalization of four leaders, the detention of one of them, and the intimidation of the group defending their rights through an explicit order to disperse the protest. This amounts to an overwhelmingly negative impact on the exercise of freedom of expression.”
The judicial actions initiated by Jujuy’s governorship seek to dismantle the demonstration and frighten its participants. In this way, instead of creating favorable conditions for the exercise of protest as the American Convention on Human Rights establishes, the state aims to impede its realization. This restriction of democratic freedoms through the obstruction and criminalization of the right to protest has the gravity, urgency and irreparability that justify the Commission’s granting of precautionary measures.
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