Photo via Clarín

Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to the public eye last night to call for the release of controversial social leader Milagro Sala, in prison since January purportedly on fraud and extortion charges but which have yet to be proved.

The former President spoke via Skype with a panel of journalists in the Instituto Patria (Patria or Homeland Institute, IP) — a political think tank affiliated with Kirchnerism — and said that “what’s happening to Milagro hurts, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”

“When they [the Macri administration] want to take all the rights you won, the first one they will take from you is freedom. [Demanding] Milagro’s freedom has symbolic value to Argentines because they [the administration] went and took this socially vulnerable group’s [economically disadvantaged people from the North of Argentina, who Sala fights for] right to be equal away,” Cristina told the panel, which was composed of Página 12 outlet journalists Horacio Verbitsky and Sandra Russo, among others.

If you’re hazy on what the whole controversy regarding Milagro Sala was about, here it is: A prominent and controversial leader from the northern province of Jujuy, Sala was arrested on January 16th for “instigating criminal activity and disorder” after setting up camp in front of her province’s government seat to demand that the new government continue providing funds to her organization, Tupac Amaru. The organization provides employment for and seeks to improve the living conditions of people in Jujuy, many of whom are of indigenous descent.

Though Sala was cleared of the initial charges, she has since remained under arrest while she is investigated for fraud and extortion: she is accused of using money the State allocated her organization to run a political patronage system (basically, providing goods and services to “constituents” but only in return of unquestioned political loyalty) in the province.

Many organizations, at home as well as abroad, have charged that she is being illicitly detained and have demanded her release. She has been labeled as the country’s “first political prisoner” by those critical of the decision.

Sala made headlines just three days ago, when she published a new letter from prison demanding the release of her husband Raúl Noro — Tupac Amaru’s press secretary — who was arrested last week for allegedly embezzling public funds destined to social housing programs.

Cristina went on to address a situation that took place on July 12, when police forced a man to get off a train in Buenos Aires Province for holding a sign with a message criticizing the Macri administration. According to the police, the man was taken off for “politically taunting other passengers and generating political debate.” However, many saw this as an attack on freedom of speech.

“I never thought I would again live in a country that had political prisoners,” said Cristina, “During the eight years I was President I was insulted;  they tried to take me down, but I never would have thought of forcing someone to get off a bus or a train for saying, ‘Kill the yegua [a derogatory term that could be compared to calling someone a “bitch”],” Cristina finished.