One year has passed since the start of the repressive escalation imposed by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, which between May 28 and June 25, 2021, executed 21 arbitrary arrests for political reasons. The judicial process followed the same pattern in all these cases: they began with the temporary disappearance of the prisoners for almost ninety days and ended with the imposition of sentences ranging from 9 to 13 years in prison or, as in the case of Hugo Torres, with death while in state custody.
CONFIDENCIAL analyzed the first 21 cases of political prisoners on this anniversary in prison. They were captured in the context of the 2021 general elections, in which Ortega was reelected without political competence in an illegitimate process. These cases expose the regime's reasons for executing the captures, the repetition of the same sequence of human rights violations, and the null intention to release them.
After calling for general elections on May 6, 2021, the Ortega and Murillo regime - who aspired to be reelected for a fourth consecutive term - began a “hunt” against opposition political parties, trade organizations, media, and political movements that emerged after the massive protests of 2018.
First, on May 20, 2021, the regime executed the second illegal raid against CONFIDENCIAL and Esta Semana, and after the first of dozens of interrogations in the Public Ministry, ordered the kidnapping of two former workers of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCh): Marcos Fletes and Walter Gómez, on Friday, May 28.
The arrests continued on June 2 with Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, former president of the FVBCh and aspiring presidential candidate at the time she was placed under house arrest. Three days later, on June 5, Arturo Cruz Sequeira, professor and presidential aspirant, was captured at the Managua International Airport.
On Tuesday, June 8, the Ortega regime arrested four opponents in less than 12 hours. Those arrested were presidential aspiring candidates Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro; Violeta Granera, member of the Political Council of the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB), and the former president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep) and member of the Civic Alliance, Jose Adan Aguerri. The following day the hunt continued with the arrest of José Pallais, a constitutional lawyer and former congressman.
The arrest of Tamara Dávila, of the Political Council of UNAB and the Unión Democrática Renovadora (Unamos), formerly MRS, on the night of June 12, was the prelude to another hunt. The following day, June 13, the following people were captured: guerrilla commander and founder of the MRS, Dora María Téllez; member of Unamos and UNAB, Ana Margarita Vijil; the president of Unamos and member of UNAB, Suyen Barahona; the former Sandinista guerrilla and vice-chancellor in the eighties, Víctor Hugo Tinoco; and the retired brigadier general, Hugo Torres, who died in prison on February 12, 2022.
Other political prisoners who will reach their first year in prison between the end of May and mid-June are the former executive president of Banpro and regional CEO of Grupo Promérica, Luis Rivas Anduray; and Pedro Vásquez, the personal driver of Cristiana Chamorro Barrios; both captured on June 15, 2021. Also, former presidential aspiring candidate and journalist, Miguel Mora, was captured on June 20; sports journalist Miguel Mendoza and former congresswoman and former first lady, María Fernanda Flores de Alemán, were arrested on June 21. In addition, former Liberal deputy and member of the Citizens for Liberty party, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was captured on June 25.
Missing for 90 days
No one knew the whereabouts of Marcos Fletes and Walter Gómez. Neither their relatives, nor their colleagues of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCh), nor their lawyers. Both had been missing for nearly 90 days since the night of Friday, May 28, 2021, when they were abducted by police agents.
Fletes, who worked as an accountant for the FVBCh, and Gómez, as a financier, were supposedly being “investigated” by the Attorney General's Office for money laundering, but their relatives - who asked for them every day at the Judicial Aid Office, known as El Chipote - were never told if they were there, nor were they allowed to see or talk to them.
The day after the arrest, the Judicial Power informed that the Tenth Criminal District Judge of Managua, Gloria Saavedra, had extended the period to investigate them from 48 hours to 90 days. During this period, both of them, as well as the rest of the political prisoners, remained “missing”.
According to a press release from the Judiciary, Fletes and Gómez were brought before the Tenth Criminal Court of Hearings on May 29, 2021, for a “special hearing for the protection of constitutional guarantees”, of which no further details were given and which was said to have taken place behind closed doors.
María Consuelo Céspedes, Gómez's wife, said that the first three months that her husband was missing “were the darkest” due to the uncertainty she suffered from not knowing anything about him. “We had no contact with him, we did not know how he was and he had no news from us either. The isolation is terrible torture”, she said.
This process “has been very hard,” Céspedes said. “It’s hard because he (Gómez) is innocent. It is something that should never have happened, he was only doing his job and Walter is a very ethical man, he has worked in countless places and he was never going to allow himself to be involved in something he considered wrong” she added.
Locked up, incommunicado, and without rights
The case of Miguel Mendoza is another example of the pattern of temporary disappearances and torture in prison experienced by political prisoners. It happened in an almost identical way with the members of Unamos and UNAB, Suyen Barahona; Tamara Dávila and Ana Margarita Vijil.
Mendoza was arrested on the night of June 21, 2021, after a raid on his home in Managua. His whereabouts were not known until 90 days later and during his time in prison he has been isolated, poorly fed, without sun exposure, kept with lights on or off 24 hours a day, and constantly interrogated.
This year that Mendoza has spent incarcerated has been “difficult” for the family. Days full of “anguish and desperation” prevail, says his wife Margin Pozo.
The ravages of poor nutrition and mistreatment in prison can be seen in the body of Suyen Barahona, who at the time of her capture, on June 13, 2021, weighed approximately 145 pounds, and a year later, her husband César Dubois estimates that she barely reaches 110 pounds. Although she looks very pale, she “tries to be optimistic” every time her family visits her.
In the case of Tamara Dávila, “the isolation is extreme” since she is in a totally closed-cell and only receives air through a crack in the door. She has no blankets to keep her warm at night, no reading materials, no photographs, and nothing to connect her to the outside world. The officers torture her by constantly telling her that she is “a bad mother”, according to her sister, Ana Lucia Alvarez.
During this year in prison, most of the political prisoners have experienced abrupt weight loss and have developed illnesses they did not suffer from before. Those who did have chronic illnesses have also suffered serious health complications, as happened to retired Brigadier General Hugo Torres Jimenez, who died while in state custody.
After the death of Hugo Torres, the Ortega-Murillo regime was forced to change the precautionary measure from preventive detention to house arrest for the political prisoners: Arturo Cruz, 68; José Pallais Arana, 68; Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios, 70; and Víctor Hugo Tinoco, 69: Cristiana Chamorro Barrios and María Fernanda Flores. And political prisoners from later months, such as ex-diplomats Mauricio Díaz and Edgard Parrales, are also now under house arrest, due to the serious deterioration of their health and their advanced age.
Attempting to break their will
For Gonzalo Carrión, member of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca+, all the arbitrary acts committed by the authorities of the regime against the more than 180 political prisoners, are the continuation of systematic repression in which serious human rights violations and crimes against humanity have been committed.
He values that this group of prisoners, who are better known in the media because they were detained in the electoral context and because several are presidential aspirants of the opposition, “have been treated with great viciousness”.
The “particular” treatment of this group of political prisoners has consisted of: “temporary disappearance, prolonged isolation, inhuman confinement, making them suffer by leaving lights on permanently or keeping them in darkness, with little sun, lack of food to the point of deteriorating their physical and mental health or even almost starving them to death. It also includes interrogations after they have been sentenced,” emphasized the human rights defender.
According to Article 33 of the Nicaraguan Constitution, a person can only be detained under the mandate of a competent judge or in the case of blatant crime. If this is the case, every detainee has the right - among other things - to be informed of the reasons for his detention and the charges against him, to inform his family, and to be treated with respect due to the inherent dignity of the human being.
Judgments in El Chipote
“My husband was sentenced to 13 years in prison while he was innocent” and currently “he does not have access to his lawyers”, denounces Victoria Cardenas, wife of political prisoner Juan Sebastian Chamorro.
Chamorro's case is the same as that of the other political prisoners captured in the context of the 2021 elections, who were tried in El Chipote prison. The hearings were held behind closed doors and not in an oral and public manner as required by law. Finally, the Ortega justice system convicted them for the crime of conspiracy to commit undermining national integrity and sentenced them to sentences ranging from nine to 13 years in prison.
For Carrión, the trials in the El Chipote prison constitute “a brutality that goes beyond any legal assessment” and summarizes a chain of abuses of power that damage the integrity of the person's rights. “The problem is that they are sentenced, condemned to infamous sentences and in absolute defenselessness, we could even say that the idea is that these are trials in complete solitude,” he commented.
In these mock trials held in prison, “the principles of legality, the presumption of innocence, respect for the dignity of the person, and proportionality are not respected.” argued the human rights defender.
Seven visits in one year
Family visits to political prisoners in El Chipote are also administered arbitrarily. In these cases, there is no established schedule as in the National Penitentiary System (SPN), but rather they depend on the orders received by the officials in charge. Thus, this group of prisoners of conscience has had only seven visits during the year that they have been in prison, during which their relatives were able to see the harsh conditions of their confinement.
A relative of the former guerrilla commander and current political prisoner, Dora María Téllez, commented that the difficult conditions in the prison have not changed since the first day and throughout this year they have noticed “a gradual deterioration” in the health of their relative although “she is a healthy woman who exercises, but the physical deterioration is noticeable”.
The relatives of the political prisoners have also taken the necessary steps to request a change of precautionary measures, from pre-trial detention to house arrest, mainly for the sick and elderly prisoners, but the judges in charge have not responded to all the requests.
IACHR presses to guarantee contact with their families
In the run-up to this first anniversary in prison, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the State of Nicaragua on May 13 to guarantee the political prisoners in El Chipote, communication, and contact with their families, daughters, and sons “in dignified and safe conditions and following international standards and national legislation”.
The IACHR reminds the State of Nicaragua that - under Article 17 of the American Convention on Human Rights - prisoners have the right to receive and send correspondence and to maintain personal and direct contact, through regular visits, with their relatives, legal representatives, and other persons, especially with their parents, sons, and daughters, and their respective partners.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff