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Argentine activist sentenced to probation, remains in jail

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine social activist Milagro Sala was sentenced to three years of probation on Wednesday on charges of inciting violence, though she will remain jailed on other charges in a case that has drawn scrutiny from international human rights groups.

Sala, leader of the Tupac Amaru social welfare group in the northern Jujuy province, was sentenced to three years probation on charges she encouraged attendees at a protest she had organized in 2009 to attack then-Senator Gerardo Morales, currently Jujuy's governor. Sala is expected to appeal the verdict.

She will remain in pre-trial detention on corruption charges based on longstanding allegations that she skimmed public money that her organization had received to run housing programs. Sala has been imprisoned for nearly a year and both the United Nations and Organization of American States have called her detention arbitrary and demanded her release.

She will be required to perform community service as part of the sentence.

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"I'm hurting inside because of the injustice we're living through, since we haven't stolen anything," Sala said in a declaration before Wednesday's verdict was read. "We have worked, we have brought dignity to thousands of people ... that was our sin."

The case, and the international attention it has gathered, has been a headache for center-right President Mauricio Macri as he tries to improve Argentina's image and attract foreign investment needed to help pull the country out of recession.

Sala, whose organization is allied with Macri's predecessor and political foe Christina Fernandez, was initially arrested and charged with "sedition" in January while protesting a change Morales, a Macri ally, had made to the public housing funding program to tighten controls.

Rights groups branded this a violation of free speech and the sedition charge was changed to corruption. Sala, also a member of the legislature of regional trade bloc Mercosur, has denied the allegations and said she is a victim of political persecution.

Macri has justified her detention and said the case is entirely within the jurisdiction of Jujuy province.

(Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Sandra Maler)

 
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