Families of imprisoned protesters demand their release, call for demonstration

Seventeen of 35 detainees have been released, but prosecutor Carlos Stornelli called for 14 to be put behind bars again

Sixteen people remain in pre-trial detention in federal jails after being arrested during the protest against President Javier Milei’s Ley Bases bill. Relatives, friends, and human rights activists gave a press conference on Monday and announced a demonstration on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Plaza de Mayo to demand their immediate release.

“We demand freedom for those who are still detained and for everyone to be acquitted,” said Lucila Adano, at the conference which happened outside Argentina’s Peace and Justice Service headquarters, an organization led by Peace Nobel Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel. Her brother, Santiago, is a musician forcefully detained by 16 officers when leaving the subway and released days later.

Thirty-five people were arrested on Wednesday by security forces, including university students and some people who were not actively protesting, like a family who was selling sausage sandwiches. Seventeen of them have since been released.

However, 33 of them are being charged with crimes ranging from public property damages to provoking violence and attacking Argentina’s constitutional order. Two others are being charged with attempting to steal from a news radio station’s car that was burnt down during the protest. The presidential press team has called the protesters “terrorist groups” who attempted to “perpetrate a coup d’etat.”

“I haven’t been able to sleep ever since I got out. This is a situation of constant fear,” said Sofia Ottogali, who was released on Friday. “The arrest was illegal. We were running away trying to stop the police from hitting us. They grabbed us at 9 de Julio Avenue when people were leaving the protest. They beat the crap out of me, tore my pants apart. A guy was shot [with a rubber bullet] for trying to help me.”

Ottogali was detained along with six other women and described the conditions they were held in as “inhumane.” She told the conference that after spending the night in a police truck they were transferred to a station where there was only one chair for them to sit — all the while they were handcuffed and given no food or water except what their families were able to provide.

Federal judge María Servini and prosecutor Carlos Stornelli are in charge of the investigation. On Friday, Servini questioned a group of protesters and decided to free 17 of them. The rest had been transferred to federal prisons in Ezeiza and Marcos Paz on the outskirts of Buenos Aires earlier that day.

On Sunday, Stornelli appealed Servini’s decision, calling for 14 people to return to jail. There are only two working days this week (Monday, Thursday, and Friday are national holidays), so the process will take longer than usual and they have to remain behind bars in the meantime.

“We are being accused of being anti-democratic. What is anti-democratic is Stornelli’s anti-constitutional accusations,” said Gonzalo Duro, who was released on Friday. 

Grisel Lyardet, whose sister Sasha was detained with Ottogali, said police first arrested them on motorbikes. Officers yelled at them: “On the ground or I’ll shoot you and drag you around by your hair.” She only learned her sister and the rest of them had been transferred to Ezeiza after Ottogali was released and they spoke. The families were able to see them on Sunday.

“The idea the government wants to install, that there was an attempted coup, has been taken up by the judicial system as well, and that is very serious,” said Lucila Adano. However, she said that “there is proof our relatives are not terrorists” and urged anyone who has videos or witnessed the arrests to come forward to the families or the human rights organizations that are helping them.

“These practices are not new, we saw them during the dictatorship,” said Sergio, a man who introduced himself as the uncle of María de la Paz Cerutti, a history teacher who was caught on video crossing the street and criticizing police officers when they decided to violently grab her, shove her on the ground and cuff her. “This is a means of discipline from the government so that we don’t fight.”

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