Jailed Indigenous Leader Milagro Sala Unmasks Torture, Mistreatment in Argentina Prison
Jailed Indigenous activist and lawmaker Milagro Sala denounced Sunday that she and other inmates have been tortured and threatened to death in prison in the Argentine province of Jujuy, where she as been illegally detained for almost a year and a half.
Sala and other women prisoners voiced complaints about abuses in the Alto Comedero prison to Jujuy provincial authorities and a United Nations panel that was visiting the Argentine province in order to report on the human rights situation in the country.
The complaint, which includes “torture,” “use of isolation cells” and “constant harassment,” will be presented to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission on Thursday, reported Argentina’s Pagina 12.
Directly implicated in Sala’s testimony, the prison’s Vice Director Patricia Balcarce was removed from her position before the U.N. visit.
“When I walked in her office, she told me I had to speak for myself, that I came alone, and would leave alone,” said Sala according to Pagina 12. When Sala replied that she came as her fellow inmates’ spokesperson, Balcarce allegedly “hit the board, stood up, slapped me, grabbed my collar and warned me that I’d better not say anything about what happened here.”
Sala added that Balcarce used to respond that all orders came from the state’s Security Minister Ekel Meyer, whom she used to speak to every day.
More than two months ago, Sala — who is also a representative in Parlasur, the parliament of the South America subcontinental bloc Mercosur — had a nervous breakdown in jail and stabbed herself after receiving a set of three new accusations after already suffering one year of preventive detention.
Three other inmates complained about physical mistreatment suffered on April 3, resulting in bruises and even a broken arm for one of them. A local judge rejected the complaint they filed a few days after the abuses.
On Sunday, the U.N. Committee against Torture released a damning report on the human rights situation in Argentina, denouncing torture in prisons, police abuses and arbitrary arrests by federal and state authorities.
Quoting cases of torture like Ezequiel Villanueva and Ivan Navarro, 15 and 18-years-old respectively, the report also mentioned attempted homicides and forced disappearances, urging authorities to address the impunity level immediately.
Last year, the U.N. demanded the government release Sala, while the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also called her detention “arbitrary.”
Sala was arrested on Jan. 16, 2016 after staging a month-long sit-in against the local government’s neoliberal policies under Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, an ally of President Mauricio Macri. Political authorities of Jujuy accused Sala of embezzlement and alleged she used “authoritarian and violent methods” while running community initiatives and leading social protests.
As leader of Tupac Amaru, an organization with some 70,000 members, Sala ran a social housing program and other community-led projects prior to her detention and has been a key player in organizing the resistance movement against austerity policies in the province and in the country.