Argentine court orders house arrest for community leader

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


Argentina's Supreme Court ordered a community activist Wednesday to be released into house arrest after she was held in pre-trial detention for nearly two years, in a case condemned by rights groups.

The order to release Milagro Sala from jail comes after a long legal battle backed by Amnesty International and other human rights groups that exposed Argentina's sharp left-right political divide.

Sala -- a community leader in Argentina's northernmost province of Jujuy -- was charged with corruption stemming from her vast indigenous welfare organization Tupac Amaru receiving millions of dollars a year in social housing subventions from ex-president Cristina Kirchner's leftist government.

However, the Supreme Court rejected arguments that Sala's preventive detention was arbitrary and validated the decision to keep her in custody on grounds of possible intimidation by her organization.

The ruling said Sala had "an organizational network" at her disposal that could allegedly be used to "instil fear" in opponents.

Sala had been held in the northern town of Jujuy, nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) north of Buenos Aires, since her 2016 arrest after leading a protest against budget cutbacks outside the provincial governor's office in the early days of center-right President Mauricio Macri's term.

She was previously granted house arrest by an Argentine court, but that decision was revoked on appeal.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last month demanded Argentina reinstate the house arrest to safeguard her "life, personal integrity and health."

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have campaigned for Sala's release on the grounds that the arrest was arbitrary and a violation of her rights.