Eight police patrols surrounded the house in Estelí of William Aragon, a former correspondent of the newspaper La Prensa, late in the afternoon of Wednesday, May 3. An officer “kindly” requested that he be let in and he agreed. They took two computers, including his daughter’s, flash drives, personal documents, two cell phones, and told him that he had to accompany them to Managua because it was a “central-level order.”
“The Police never told me why they were taking me,” said Aragon, who has practiced journalism for more than 15 years. His arrest, in some way, was expected. Sandinista Front operators had previously threatened him with death, and shot a round of bullets at his house three times in June 2018 after the start of the protests, and that they detained him for hours that same year.
Recently, in January, he moved from Somoto to Esteli to avoid police and political persecution, but to no avail.
“They see us as criminals, capable of killing someone. My work is journalistic, I am not with one side or another. We simply do our job of informing the population with the truth, that’s all,” notes Aragon, in a context in which more than 150 journalists have gone into exile due to the persecution of the regime.
The reporter is one of the 57 Nicaraguans detained and accused by the Public Ministry for the alleged catch-all crimes of “conspiracy and undermining of national integrity” and “propagation of false news”, during the night of Wednesday and early Thursday morning, May 3-4. They then were brought before Ortega judges in express hearings.
The officers first took Aragon to the Esteli police station, and then put him in a minibus along with another person. The vehicle was guarded by eight heavily armed riot police, the journalist said. He was taken to the infamous El Chipote jail 2.5 hours away in Managua, where he remained for an hour in a closed room.
He thought it was an interrogation room, mainly because they placed him with his back to the door, on a chair. He believed that at any moment an officer would appear to question him, beat him, but it didn’t happen. Around eleven at night he was taken to the Ajax Delgado police station, they took his fingerprints and they reunited him with other detainees, natives of Somoto, Madriz.
The Ortega judge read the charges, accusing them of disseminating false news that causes anxiety to the population and that questions the Government. He assured them that this was an “informative hearing”, a figure that does not exist in the Criminal Procedure Code, they imposed their public defenders, and gave them probation until their trial.
“They gave us two public defenders who never represented us,” said the journalist. The order of the Ortega judges is that the more than 50 kidnapped remain free [awaiting trial], forcing them to sign daily at the police stations in their towns. Otherwise, they are exposed to a new capture.
However, this precautionary measure represents an expense of 120 córdobas per day for Aragon, for which he requested support from the court to sign in Esteli, where he now lives, and not in Somoto, but he was reprimanded. The judge told him “to be thankful for not sending him to jail.”
At 5:45 in the morning on May 4, Aragon was returned to his house. According to the judicial order, he had to travel to Somoto to sign, but he did not manage to go. He does not feel safe, he fears that at any moment they will detain him again, and much more, after Ortega fanatics on motorcyclists have remained outside his house.
“The situation is critical, it is worrysome, we know that it is part of the government’s desperation to avoid demonstrations (…) there is fear, the government’s concerned,” he said.
In this roundup, described as the worst by activists since the protests of 2018, human rights defenders, members of the Peasant Movement, journalists, opponents, and relatives of fatalities of the April massacre were arrested. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 355 persons were murdered that year.
Ortega uses bogus legislation for political purposes
“Carmen” was put on a patrol pickup guarded by eight riot police. One of them told her mother that they needed to investigate her because she was “conspiring against the State of Nicaragua.” They raided her home and stole phones, computers, tablets, and a Nicaraguan flag.
The woman was nervous. She cried. Upon arriving at the capital’s courts, a judicial officer assured her that she was attacking the State of Nicaragua through her publications on social networks, that she was inciting an insurrection, a source close to the case reported. What she was doing, the judge told her, was a crime and they forced her to sign a document in which she promised to never get involved in civic resistance activities again.
In reality, what “Carmen” was doing was sharing messages demanding justice and democracy in Nicaragua.
The more than 50 prisoners were subjected to a combination of repressive laws – the Special Cybercrime Law and the Treason against the homeland law”, approved by the Ortega controlled legislature to use them against opponents and any dissident voice, justifying their arrests.
In a single night, the Police raided more than 50 houses, without presenting a warrant. For their part, the Ortega judges tried to give legality to spurious and clearly null processes, indicated lawyers consulted.
“We observed multiple violations of the rules of the Criminal Procedure Code,” such as night raids and judicial activity during non-business hours, said the lawyer, Danny Ramírez Ayerdiz.
Attorney Juan Diego Barberena highlighted that the procedural actions of the Ortega courts are null because they violate the rules of due process. This including the right to defense -since they were imposed public defenders-, in courts removed from their provinces. Likewise, they were not even given a copy of the accusations.
Lawyer Yonarqui Martínez confirmed that the legal processes of at least 30 detainees already appear in the digital system of the Judiciary, before judges recognized for routinely trying and sentencing opponents to the regime.
Barberena believes that beyond the questionable legal conditions, the Ortega dictatorship seeks to send a political message. “They want to prevent those arrested from carrying out any activity that threatens his regime and for this reason, he forces them into exile. With this, he achieves that there is no manifestation of civic resistance in Nicaragua,” he says.
And furthermore, “it imposes terror, through a de facto state of siege,” he said.
Instill terror in the population
The Nunca Mas Nicaragua Human Rights Collective condemned the accusations presented by the judicial authority “based on non-existent facts” and pointed to the regime for using the judicial system for political purposes. It also described as “abusive and inhumane” forcing detainees to sign daily in the police stations of their town.
Exiled student and human rights organizations issued a letter in which they condemn and reject the arbitrary detentions carried out by the Ortega regime, calling it “a new form of repression” focused on “instilling extreme fear in the population” and can only be compared to an “escalation of State terrorism”.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times