Luis Almagro. Photo via En Pais Zeta

Organization of American States Secretary General, Luis Almagro, joined other international organizations in the call for the “immediate release” of controversial social leader Milagro Sala, who has been in prison since January as a result of active fraud and extortion charges against her. These charges have not been proven or confirmed by a court of law to date.

In a written response to a letter Sala, the leader of Tupac Amaru organization, herself had sent him on November 26, Almagro said he shared the concern voiced during the past week by, “among others, the Inter American Court of Human Rights [the OAS’s judicial body regarding the matter, IACHR], the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and internationally recognized organizations from the civil society.”

On October 28th, the working group which is part of The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) handed a 25-page- document to the Foreign Ministry classifying Sala’s detention as being explicitly “arbitrary”.

“Upon analyzing the judicial cases for which Sala has been deprived her freedom […] there are no existing legal elements that justify her remaining in custody,” the document says. The issue was also brought up by Canadian Minister Justin Trudeau during his State visit to the country two weeks ago.

As a result of this international pressure, the Macri administration formally invited both the UN workforce as well as the IACHR to evaluate Sala’s situation in Jujuy for themselves. Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj estimated the UN’s mission will arrive early next year.

So far, the government’s stance remains firm. A week after the Human Rights Secretariat sent these international organizations a 21-page-long report assuring that freeing Sala would “implicate a clear danger for the investigation’s goals,” looking into fraud and extortion charges concerning the way she ran the organization she is in charge of during the Kirchner administration.

Further in his letter, Almagro thanked Argentina for inviting the IACHR to assess the situation, but made it clear that “the Argentine state, in compliance with international and universal agreements, will make room for the requests received from the international community.”

If you’re hazy on what the whole controversy regarding Milagro Sala was about, here is the rundown:

Sala, a prominent and controversial leader from the northern province of Jujuy, was arrested on January 16th for “instigating criminal activity and disorder” after setting up camp in front of her province’s government capital building 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, the people of 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 on the condition of getting unquestioned political loyalty in return) in the province.

The judiciary can legally keep a suspect in prison while the charges are being investigated: to do so, officials must prove that there’s either a risk the suspect will flee or that he or she will interfere with the investigation, like tampering witnesses, for example. This is not an uncommon practice when cases involve powerful political figures — businessmen with ties to Kirchnerism Lázaro Báez and former Transportation Secretary Ricardo Jaime are in the same situation — but Almagro, clarifying he is not opposed to the main investigation, requested Sala be released until the Jujuy court investigating her issues a definitive ruling. He, as well as other international organizations, argue there’s no risk of flee or interfering.