Milagro Sala conviction: a dangerous precedent for the exercise of the right to protest in Argentina

Based on testimony lacking any credibility, the federal judiciary handed down a disproportionate sentence to a social activist for an episode in which she did not participate.

Today Milagro Sala was given a 3-years suspended prison sentence for a protest-related incident for which she was arbitrarily charged and convicted.

The Jujuy Federal Court declared her guilty based on the testimony of a single witness who has worked for the provincial government since 2016, brought by provincial governor Gerardo Morales, plaintiff in the case. The witness lied to the court on numerous points, as well as said employment relationship, in an effort to hide the direct link between the witness and one of the parties in the proceedings – a fact that is relevant in any trial when it comes to establishing the veracity of the testimony.

Graciela López and Gustavo Salvatierra were convicted for protesting as the material authors of aggravated damages and given respectively 3- and 2-year suspended prison sentences, while Sala was convicted of instigating the protest.

This is an arbitrary conviction based on no evidence, after a trial in which the utmost was done to sustain the accusation regarding incidents that, in any case, could only merit a lighter category and that should been considered under statute of limitations. Furthermore, in order to convict Milagro Sala, who was not present at the time of the events, the court had to undertake a lengthy interpretation of the crime of instigation under Article 45 of the Criminal Code, in violation of the principle of legality.

As a result, the federal justice system gave a disproportionate sentence to a social activist for an episode in which she did not participate, based on testimony that lacks any credibility.

This use of criminal law to achieve a conviction for an act of social protest is a dangerous precedent for the exercise of basic rights in a democratic state.

Furthermore, Milagro Sala is also being tried in misdemeanor court for a campout protest for which she was detained in January. In two weeks, it will have been one year since Sala was arbitrarily deprived of her liberty. However, she was not detained when the trial that just concluded began, nor was her detention ordered today since she was given a suspended sentence. Today’s conviction does not affect the arbitrary nature of her detention and confirms the persecution noted by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and other international human rights bodies. It is one more demonstration of the Jujuy executive power’s determination to persecute her, ratified by a federal court.