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  Number 476 | Marzo 2021
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Nicaragua

Nicaragura briefs

POLITICAL PRISONERS

The latest Amnesty International (AI) report says that 1,614 political prisoners have passed through Nicaragua’s jails since the April 2018 rebellion, with different lengths of incarceration. In 2019, 409 of those imprisoned the longest were finally released. None of them had their files annulled. At the end of this March, 123 political prisoners or prisoners of conscience were still behind bars, 113 of whom were captured in the wake of the April rebellion, while 10 had already been in prison for years before. On March 25, the regime pardoned 800 common prisoners (747 men and 53 women) for Holy Week, a total that included only 2 political prisoners. Between September 2020 and March 2021, more than 22,000 common prisoners, some of them perpetrators of murders and other heinous crimes, have been released into “family coexistence.”



THREE YEARS OF REPRESSION

With the third anniversary of the April civic rebellion approaching, Amnesty International for the Americas published a report giving a numerical account of the human rights crisis in Nicaragua. AI offers this sum-up: 328 people killed, 2,000 injured, more than 100,000 forced to leave the country, more than 100 in prison, 1,614 arbitrarily deprived of liberty during these three years, 150 university students expelled, at least 87 precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, more than 90 journalists and communicators in exile and more than 400 health professionals dismissed for political reasons.

The report identifies three current central tactics of repression: arbitrary arrests and imprisonment on trumped-up charges, laws to silence criticism and dissent, and the imposition of “civil death” against many of the 104 people released from prison in 2019, who are prevented from working and mobilizing and are constantly under siege. The report also lists other repressive tactics: smear and stigmatization campaigns; harassment and intimidation of opponents and their families; arbitrary arrests; politically motivated false charges and trials without opportunity for defense; ill-treatment and lack of basic prison conditions; recaptures and re-imprisonment; and attacks against journalists.



CONFESIONS OF
A POLICE OFFICER

On February 21, Nicaragua’s La Prensa newspaper published an extensive interview with Julio Espinoza, a former member of the Special Police Operations Directorate (DOEP), which includes anti-riot police. Espinoza was hit on the head with a rock on April 19, 2018, in Masaya, which led to a three-month discharge from the DOEP, during which he reflected and decided to leave permanently. He was persecuted for that decision and had to go into exile. Espinoza had joined the force in 2012, at the age of 22, and soon moved to the DOEP.

In the interview, he points out that the regime’s repression intensified due to the Campesino Movement’s anti-Interoceanic Canal protests starting in 2014. He confirms that any opposition mobilization was always “infiltrated” by plainclothes police and that since April 2018 anyone who asked to leave for not agreeing with the armed repression against protesters was punished in different ways and even killed. Espinoza gives the name of two of those he knows were killed when they asked to leave: Douglas Mendiola and José Abraham Martínez. He also states that “the majority of the police officers killed were those who had asked to be discharged, most of them executed by the police force itself. Espinoza confessed that he “regrets” having beaten people in some demonstrations before April, but says that “I didn’t kill, nor did I shoot anyone.” He considers that “all the Police is stained with blood” today and “must be completely changed” and says the Army participated in the repression. His aspiration is to be a member of a new police force.



THE RED CROSS IN JAIL

Between February 15 and 19, a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), led by María Noel Rodríguez Tochetti, adviser for Mexico and Central America, visited Nicaragua’s main prisons in Managua and Granada to learn about the situation of those deprived of liberty and to provide human rights training and technical advice to prison officials. The regime widely publicized the visit, taking advantage of the fact that the ICRC, an institution that declares itself “neutral, impartial and independent,” only deals with the country’s authorities, keeping its reports and findings strictly confidential.



THE FOREIGN AGENTS LAW

With the entry into force of the Law against Foreign Agents, two national organizations—PEN Nicaragua and the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation—closed their operations rather than attempt to register as foreign agents, as required by this law for any organization or individual that receives foreign funds for its programs. PEN Nicaragua is the national affiliate of PEN International. Gioconda Belli, its most internationally known member, explained that since 2018 the Ministry of Government has refused to extend them the certification to continue operating as an NGO so “we lost the possibility of opting for projects and our bank account was canceled.” Despite this, they continued to promote activities through voluntary actions. Belli explained that the “infinite requirements” demanded by the law on foreign agents prevented them from continuing to operate because that “would require personnel that we lacked.”

The Foundation, meanwhile, has been dedicated since 1998 to defending freedom of expression; access to public information; and the existence of independent journalism, strengthening capacities of media and communicators. Its former president, Cristiana Chamorro, read a communiqué affirming that they will not submit to a law they describe as “monstrous” and “unconstitutional.” The closing of the Foundation affects more than 15 media outlets that have been operating for more than 20 years.



THE CONFISCATIONS
ARE A DONE DEAL

Throughout February and March, the regime put a definitive stamp on its confiscation of two media outlets and five NGOs whose legal status it annulled in December 2018, when it militarily occupied their facilities, confiscated their bank accounts and stole all their equipment. They all filed injunction appeals with the Supreme Court of Justice, but it never ruled on their cases, even though Article 44 of the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibits confiscations.

Almost three years later, in February of this year, the regime concluded the illegality by converting the facilities of all these organizations into state institutions. The buildings of Confidencial, 100%Noticias, CENIDH (Nicaraguan Human Rights Center), CISAS (the Health Information and Advisory Services Center), IPADE (Institute for Development and Democracy) and Popol Na, all located in Managua, were remodeled, painted in the fuchsia pink that is the Vice President’s hallmark and turned over to the Ministry of Health: Confidencial and CISAS for maternity centers, CENIDH and Popol Na for health centers, 100% Noticias for the rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug addicts, and IPADE for diabetics. The Las Segovias Leadership Institute, located in Mozonte, in the north of the country, was given to the public university.

Large photos of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo were placed at the entrance of all the confiscated buildings. The objective of the remodeling is propagandistic: to transform the confiscations into political triumphs over “coup-mongering” media and organizations by allocating their facilities to social projects for “the poor.” But this is pure smoke and mirrors: a journalistic investigation of the Confidencial building showed there is little going on inside., while at least one of the other confiscated buildings has an elegant sign on its wall, but there is no reported activity.


IN DEFENSE OF JOURNALISTS

On March 1, Nicaragua’s National Journalists’ Day, under the aegis of the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation (Gabo Foundation) 470 journalists from Latin America and other parts of the world signed a document expressing their “concern and indignation at the stripping of two elementary rights of which Nicaragua’s citizens are victims: freedom of expression and timely access to truthful and independent information.” The journalists list the most serious repressive acts against Nicaraguan journalism between April 2018 and February 2021, when the Ortega regime culminated “the confiscation of facilities where independent media operated,” referring to the fact that “without a court order, that government consummated the illegal usurpation of the offices of the Confidencial and 100% Noticias media, and inaugurated facade dependencies of the Ministry of Health in them.”

The journalists charged that the regime “has sought by different means to asphyxiate any form of criticism of its policies and conflicts of interest that deteriorate the quality of life of that country’s citizens, aggravated by the obscure management of the COVID-19 pandemic.” They also underscore that “the increasing opacity” of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s financial operations, together with the minimization of the pandemic, “make independent journalism even more urgent, so it can report what is really happening in the country.” They state that “on November 7, Nicaragua will face a decisive electoral process that has no democratic guarantee. Without independent journalism there can be neither free and fair elections nor democracy.”

The signers call on “the democratic governments of the world to urge and pressure President Daniel Ortega to immediately cease his repressive policy against the media and independent journalists,” and demand that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International be allowed to enter Nicaragua. They also invite “the continent’s fellow journalists and media to take up the human rights crisis and the future of Nicaragua as an important topic in their news agendas” and conclude that “We resolve not to leave Nicaraguan journalists alone at a critical moment in their courageous history of denouncing repression in their country.”
US ENTRY VISAS RESTRICTED

On February 26, a press release from the US State Department announced it will restrict entry visas to the United States for persons from any country who “on behalf of a foreign government” repress, harass, surveil, threaten or harm journalists, activists or other persons because they are considered opponents, when what they are doing is “exercising their fundamental freedoms.” In Nicaragua, this measure will be applicable to officials at different levels of the Ortega-Murillo regime who have been exercising these forms of repression since April 2018, and in some cases even earlier.


100,000 RETURN DUE TO UNEMPLOYMENT

Ministry of Government figures show that 99,567 Nicaraguans returned from different countries in the 12 months between March 11, 2020—when the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic—and February 11, 2021, most because they had lost their jobs due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

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