In Nicaragua, 1,600 people have been arbitrarily detained since 2018

During a demonstration against police violence on April 23, 2018 in Managua, Nicaragua.  The poster shows Daniel Ortega, the country's president and former president, Anastasio Somoza.

More than 1,600 political prisoners. This is the number of opponents who have been arbitrarily detained in Nicaragua between April 2018 and May 2020, for having participated in demonstrations against the government of Daniel Ortega or for having encouraged them, according to a report made public Wednesday, December 2 by the Commission. Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR).

These opponents were held in overcrowded and unsanitary cells, without sufficient beds, and were sometimes placed in solitary confinement. “Without objective criteria”, specifies the report of the IACHR, an organization emanating from the Organization of American States (OAS).

The text, entitled “Persons deprived of their liberty in Nicaragua in the context of the human rights crisis”, cites the example of an opponent detained in a police station in the department of Leon (west) in a 6 m cell.2 with 18 other people: “The cell had only four bunks with no mattresses, made of wooden slats, which is why they slept on top of each other on the floor, or sat, invaded by mosquitoes and cockroaches. “

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The arrests, the report said, took place “In a massive, selective and repeated manner, through the abusive and disproportionate use of force”. The prisoners suffered “Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, some of which could be assimilated to torture”: torn nails, electric shocks, blows, humiliations … The IACHR also documents “Acts of sexual violence and rape” against women.

At least 328 deaths caused by repression

The protests began in April 2018 and were aimed at opposing social security reform. But faced with the violent repression exercised by the police against the protesters, they had turned into a rebellion calling for the end of the regime. “Nepotist” and “Corrupt” by Daniel Ortega, in power since 2007 after having governed the country from 1979 to 1990. Since April 2018, the repression has left at least 328 dead and 2,000 wounded, and more than 100,000 opponents have gone into exile, most of them to the Costa Neighbor Rica.

The arrests had been massive and violent from the outset, with the intention of “To suppress any position of opposition to the current regime and to transmit a message of fear and control to the Nicaraguan population”, says the document.

The figure of 1,614 opponents arbitrarily detained “Would only represent a fraction” of reality, explains the report, “Because of the absence of official information” or the fact that arrests were sometimes made with the participation of “Armed civilian groups” and that people could be transferred “To illegal or clandestine detention centers”.

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Under international pressure, Mr. Ortega released more than 600 political prisoners. According to the IACHR, 80 people remained in prison in May. The families, who launched Tuesday, for the third consecutive year, the campaign “Christmas without political prisoners”, count 118.

In December 2018, the government expelled an IACHR commission that had visited Nicaragua to monitor the implementation of recommendations made by the body to overcome the political crisis in the country.

The government had not yet reacted to the IACHR report on Thursday. The authorities had called “Partial” and “Subjective” another report published in June 2018. “The repression of social forces is not a state policy, and even less the arbitrary use of force”, had assured the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denis Moncada Colindres, during an intervention before the Permanent Council of the OAS.

Covid-19 epidemic and hurricanes

In the context of the pandemic due to the coronavirus, the IACHR also points to the situation in which people deprived of their liberty find themselves: crowding in cells, impossibility of respecting physical distancing and health protocols.

Nicaragua officially recognizes around 5,800 contaminations and 160 deaths. But the Covid-19 Citizen Observatory, a platform of independent experts, recorded nearly 11,400 cases and 2,800 suspicious deaths as of November 25, for a population of 6.5 million inhabitants.

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Human rights organizations are demanding, in addition to the release of opponents still in prison, the abolition of three freedom-killing laws voted in recent weeks: the “law for the regulation of foreign agents”, which would oblige any person, physical or moral, which receives foreign funds to register with the Ministry of Interior, resulting in close supervision and financial control; the “special cyber crime law”, which provides for sentences of up to four years in prison for “fake news “; and, finally, a reform of the Constitution, passed on November 10, which punishes “hate crimes” with life imprisonment.

In addition to the regime’s crackdown and the Covid-19 epidemic, Nicaraguans also had to suffer the consequences of two hurricanes in November. Eta and Iota killed 21 people in landslides and flooding. Almost half of the country’s population has been affected. About 2,000 kilometers of roads and 106 bridges were destroyed or damaged, as well as schools, clinics and the hospital in Bilwi, a Caribbean port city, which took the full brunt of the first shock of the two hurricanes.

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