Relatives of at least twenty political prisoners have managed to visit their imprisoned family members for the first time, following more than 80 days of complete isolation. The first to receive visits were opposition leaders Violeta Granera, Tamara Davila, Dora Maria Tellez and Ana Margarita Vigil; business leader Jose Adan Aguerri; former deputy Jose Pallais; former presidential candidates Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Arturo Cruz and Felix Maradiaga; and former Violeta Barrios Foundation employees Walter Gomez and Marcos Fletes, who were all allowed a 20-30 minute visit at the “El Nuevo Chipote” jail in Managua.
Since late May, the regime has jailed 35 opposition leaders, including seven who aspired to run for president in the elections scheduled for November. Had they not been imprisoned and inhibited from running, any one of the seven could have faced Daniel Ortega, who is seeking a new electoral period.
Thirty-one of the detained are in “El Nuevo Chipote” jail, while four are being held under house arrest. Gomez and Fletes had been isolated and unseen for 95 days; Cruz for 87; Maradiaga, Chamorro, Granera and Aguerri for 84; Pallais for 83; Davila for 80; and Vijil and Tellez for 79 days. None have been allowed any contact whatsoever with each other, other prisoners, their attorneys or the outside world.
The visits took place five days after nine of the eleven political prisoners were formally charged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office with “conspiracy to undermine the national integrity”, thus harming Nicaraguan society and the Nicaraguan state.
Walter Gomez and Marcos Fletes, the two Foundation employees, were formally charged on August 23 with the alleged crimes of money and asset laundering, misappropriation of funds, improper withholding, mismanagement and ideological falsity.
Other prisoners’ visits scheduled for September
All of the accusations have been made during preliminary hearings conducted in complete secrecy, where not even the defense lawyers had access. Nonetheless, the Prosecution issued a statement claiming that the hearings were held in accordance with articles 410 and 412 of Nicaragua’s Penal Code.
In a later statement, the Prosecutor’s Office reported that “beginning on Tuesday (August 31), visits began for the relatives of those detained via the processes outlined in previous statements, all in conformity and accordance with the Nicaraguan Constitution, the Penal Code, and Criminal Processing Code, recognizing the accused persons’ right to communication and visits with their relatives.”
Another nine prisoners were authorized to receive family visits on Wednesday, September 1.
Up until now, the regime had blocked any visits to the political prisoners and had also refused to allow them to receive food and other necessities, only occasionally permitting limited quantities of drinking water or other liquids and medicine.
Hugo Torres, Víctor Hugo Tinoco, Pedro Vasquez, Lesther Aleman, Max Jerez, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, Suyen Barahona, Luis Rivas and Miguel Mora were allowed to see a relative for the first time in their months of confinement. Photos: Confidencial/Jorge Mejía
Thin and pale
Only one family member was allowed in for visits limited to 20–30 minutes, held in a small room in the jail complex and without the guards. All the prisoners of conscience were observed to be very thin. Some had lost up to 20 pounds, according to sources from the families. They were pale from the lack of sunlight, and said that they were kept isolated, were not allowed to talk, and were subjected to daily interrogations.
Dora Maria’s brother Oscar Tellez, also an attorney, told the Associated Press that he spoke with his sister and observed that she was “very thin and pale, because they receive sunlight only once a week.”
“My sister has lost 12 pounds. She hasn’t been mistreated, but she isn’t treated well either, because she’s in total isolation like the rest of the political prisoners. They can’t see each other, or talk amongst themselves,” Oscar Tellez told AP reporters.
Consuelo Cruz, Arturo Cruz’ sister, told Confidencial that she had visited her brother who had been treated “correctly” by the jail authorities.
“Psychological Torture” denounced
Former presidential aspiring candidates Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro during a December 2019 interview. Photo: Confidencial
Relatives and the legal team of former presidential candidates Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro denounced the psychological torture both have undergone during their imprisonment. They also denounced irregularities that included hearings held at 3 am in the “El Nuevo Chipote” jail, the same place they’re being held.
According to the statement issued, both Chamorro and Maradiaga have lost considerable weight during their time in jail, possibly as much as 25 pounds. They do not, however, exhibit any outward signs of physical injury.
“In the case of Juan Sebastian Chamorro, while he says he hasn’t been beaten or physically mistreated, he’s suffered psychological torture. For example, bright lights are on 24 hours a day in his cell. And he’s been subjected to intense daily interrogations that have normally lasted at least an hour,” notes a statement from the family members and defense team.
The statement highlights: “Although Felix Maradiaga also states that he hasn’t been beaten or physically tortured following his initial arrest, he’s been psychologically tortured and subjected to frequent and harsh interrogations.”
Maradiaga, asked his family members to transmit his message to the world: “I’m strong, I have faith, and I’m praying to God daily for Nicaragua.”
Closed door hearings and due process violations denounced
Chamorro and Maradiaga also face a scheduled September 3rd preliminary hearing on the regime’s charges.
“In an extraordinary additional violation to their due process rights, their family members have been told that it will be a closed-door hearing in El Chipote, instead of one before the Court,” notes the statement.
The statement quotes international attorney Jared Genser, who has taken on the case of imprisoned former candidates Felix Mardiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro. He applauded the opportunity for relatives to finally see the political prisoners in person, but also protested the conditions of their imprisonment.
“After having disappeared for 84 days, we’re pleased to know that Juan Sebastian and Felix are alive. Nonetheless, the circumstances of their detention remain the same. They’re political prisoners of Daniel Ortega’s regime, because they declared their candidacies to the presidency. Not only is their accusation based on laws that violate international law, but their rights to due process have also been repeatedly violated. They face 15 – 25 years in prison for having dared to declare their candidacies, and attempt to run against Daniel Ortega for the presidency,” said Genser.