Argentina’s Human Rights Secretariat has filed a criminal complaint against the Jujuy provincial government after a series of roadblocks and protests in the northern province were met with a violent police crackdown, resulting in hundreds of injuries and over 60 arrests.
“We have established numerous crimes perpetrated by members of the police force that, beyond the responsibility of those directly responsible, demonstrates actions illegally organized from the highest spheres of the provincial government,” wrote Horacio Pietragalla, Argentina’s human rights secretary, and Mariano Przybylski, national director of policies against institutional violence, in the court filing.
The secretariat’s filing is based on interviews conducted in Jujuy, and comes after similar findings by institutions including the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity and the National Committee for Torture Prevention (CNPT, by its Spanish initials). Delegations found that protesters detained during the crackdown were beaten and mistreated during arrest and suffered injuries from rubber bullets, including on their faces.
They also found that some of those detained were minors or older adults and others appeared to be bystanders. All those who were arrested have now been released, with the final detainees released on Friday.
Protests in Jujuy
Indigenous groups, teachers’ unions and social movements in Jujuy have been protesting for weeks over pay and a reform to the provincial constitution that restricts the right to protest. Parts of the reform would have made it harder for Indigenous peoples to claim their ancestral land rights, although some of these provisions were removed from the final version, which was adopted on Tuesday, June 20.
Police moved to clear protesters who were blocking a highway near the town of Purmamarca on Saturday, June 17, resulting in dozens of injuries and around 30 arrests, including a journalist and a left-wing politician. On June 20, as the reform was sworn in, there were further protests in San Salvador. Some demonstrators entered the Legislature building and set fire to parts of its facilities. Another 30 arrests were made that day.
Those arrested in Purmamarca have been charged with crimes including resisting authority, injuring police, and blocking highways, while those in San Salvador are charged with resisting authority, injuring police, and arson, according to Diego Funes, a Jujuy prosecutor working on the prosecution of the protesters.
He said that records currently show 120 police were injured in San Salvador and 44 in Purmamarca.
He added that the Jujuy authorities are also investigating allegations of abuse by the police.
Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, who pushed the constitutional reform, was named Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s running-mate in the presidential race on Friday, meaning that if Larreta wins the presidential nomination and the general elections, Morales would become vice president of Argentina in December.
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Authorities say around 170 people were injured over the course of the crackdowns. Seventeen-year-old Mijael Lian Lamas lost one eye after being shot with a rubber bullet, and Nelson Mamani was hit in the head by a metal tear gas canister, fracturing his skull and leaving him in intensive care. Both their cases were included in the Human Rights Secretariat’s filing.
“When we arrived, we found that many people hadn’t been attended to, even with first aid, basically,” said Julia Albarracín, coordinator for prevention and handling of institutional violence at the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry’s Subsecretary for Diversity Policies.
The crackdown on June 20 happened at around 2 p.m. Albarracín and other lawyers were allowed to enter Alto Comedero prison in San Salvador, Jujuy’s provincial capital, at around 7.30 p.m. Prison staff attempted to block access for several hours, for instance by requesting credentials that Albarracín is not required to carry, she told the Herald.
“There were women with multiple rubber bullet wounds on their legs and they hadn’t even been given painkillers.”
The CPNT found that some of the detainees had rubber bullet wounds on their face and torso, as well as their legs, the team wrote in a communiqué, adding that the detainees had received a routine medical evaluation on arrival.
Hands tied with cable ties
“All the women we spoke to said they had been assaulted, all the arrests were violent,” Albarracín said. “They used cable ties to tie their hands.” Likewise, detainees told the CNPT that they had been hit and subjected to other mistreatment during their arrest and transport.
“Most of the interviewees said that the police personnel were not wearing identification,” it noted in its statement.
Once they reached the jail, there were delays and irregularities in them being read their rights, both delegations found, and Albarracín added that in some cases, the security forces did not immediately tell the arrested protesters’ families where they were, meaning their whereabouts were initially unknown.
The teams identified five minors in detention, and Albarracín said she found detainees as old as 70, a woman who uses a stoma bag following a colon operation, and individuals who were experiencing ongoing mental health episodes. One of the women interviewed was a nurse who had been arrested while assisting a protester in difficulty, she added.
The minors were boys in their late teens, according to Albarracín. “That’s what happens in mass arrests, there’s no kind of identification of whether the person is a minor, how old they are,” she said. It is illegal to detain minors in adult prisons in Argentina.
“You can’t identify them all in that instant, it’s raining tear gas, rubber bullets, stones,” Funes said, adding that any detainees found to be minors or suffering from health problems were released after a short time in detention.
While the police claim all of those arrested were in the process of committing crimes, the Secretariat found that some of the detainees were bystanders, including street vendors and people going to visit family or run errands. “There could be errors [in the arrests], I don’t rule it out,” he told the Herald.
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Journalist’s phone opened
Lucho Aguilar, a reporter for news website La Izquierda Diario (The Left Daily), who was arrested during the Purmamarca crackdown, had his phone confiscated. The judge handling his case ordered for his phone to be unlocked at a hearing Aguilar’s lawyers say they were not notified of.
“We consider it a serious attack on press freedom,” said Agustín Comas, a lawyer with the Center of Professionals for Human rights, who has been closely following Aguilar’s case. “It is in no way appropriate to detain a journalist who is doing his work, first of all, and then to open his phone!” Aguilar was wearing a press vest and carrying journalist’s credentials, according to Comas.
Funes said that the authorities were analyzing large quantities of video footage of the events in Purmamarca and would assess whether a working journalist in a press vest had been detained in those conditions.
Human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have called on the government to respect the right to protest and follow international guidelines on the appropriate use of force.
The CNPT said it would compile a confidential report with recommendations and submit it to local authorities.