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Nicaragua: Dozens of Missing and “over 400 Political Prisoners”

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) has confirmed 292 deaths from the protests, among them 20 police.

Yader Luna

24 de julio 2018


The situation in Nicaragua as a result of the repressive actions of Daniel Ortega’s government is “alarming”. Up until now, nearly 300 have died, and dozens of people are either “missing”, tortured or have fled.  In addition, between 400 and 500 people are being held in the country’s different jails.  This information was disclosed by Vilma Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) during her participation on Sunday, July 22, on the weekly television news program “Esta Semana”.

Nunez assured that many of the detained are being “massively accused of crimes.” All sense of “judicial process” is being lost because “they’re charged with global crimes” such as terrorism, and none of the accusations consider the victims as individuals.

Nunez says the accusations “should specify individual responsibilities;” you can’t just “accuse someone of general crimes.”

“Nicaragua is experiencing a regrettable situation.  We currently maintain a registry of somewhere between 400 and 500 political prisoners in all the country’s jails,” Nunez indicated during her television appearance.

Up through Saturday, Cenidh has tabulated 96 prisoners in the El Chipote jail alone, all being held for demonstrating against the regime.  The list included two fourteen-year-olds from Masaya who were freed on Saturday following four days in jail.  However, “the numbers change every day,” Nunez clarified.

Imposing a climate of fear

Dr. Nunez revealed that they don’t have information regarding how many of all those detainees in the country are actually being processed judicially by the District Attorney’s Office. Nevertheless, it’s a number “that’s growing,” because they began by charging a few, and now “are attributing crimes massively.”

Regarding the detention of rural leaders Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, and of Irlanda Jerez, leader of the merchants from the Oriental Market, the Cenidh president expressed that the intention is to “terrorize and intimidate the grassroots leaders.”

“They’re using these detentions to create fear among the population and even to generate a class conflict, because people might be asking why some are jailed and not others.”

Many are fleeing

Nunez stated that upon dismantling the roadblocks and barricades in Monimbo and Lovago and other cities, many of the people who were protesting had to flee to avoid “their extermination”.

“What we’re experiencing is a human tragedy, because there are dozens of farmers who have fled into the mountains, even some bearing the wounded, after having been at those roadblocks,” said the Cenidh president.

She explained that according to the new international standards, a person whose whereabouts is unknown is considered “missing”.

“When the police detain someone and cover up where they’re being held and why they were detained, it’s [considered] a disappearance. The norms regulating the term ‘forced disappearance’ don’t establish a time frame. When a person has been captured by the authorities and it’s not known where they are, that’s immediately considered a missing person,” she specified.

Dozens have been tortured

Student Marco Novoa, recently became the first Nicaraguan to publicly denounce the existence of a clandestine jail in which he was tortured for a week. 

With respect to this case, Nunez stated that the Cenidh was accompanying the case, and that his was a “brave” declaration that lays bare the cruelty with which Ortega’s regime is proceeding. 

“As someone who was tortured myself, I can tell you that his case is authentic. The way he talked – I can assure you that there wasn’t any outside representation or reworking (…) it’s praiseworthy that he’s had the courage to relate in raw detail all of the barbarities that they inflicted on him,” said Nunez.

Cenidh has gathered “many testimonies of torture,” above all from people who were freed after having been detained in the El Chipote jail and at the La Modelo prison.

Since she doesn’t have any access to the Institute of Legal Medicine to conduct exams and register the tortures, this human rights organization uses a “DIY documentation system,” with photos and testimonies of the victims.

Regarding the existence of clandestine jails, Nunez indicated that they haven’t been able to prove their existence, but they have denunciations referring to these. In at least three cases, they have information that they were “structures” of the National Police.

She mentioned that some of the victims spoke of arbitrary detentions in the former jail known as La Esperanza and in two police stations, one near the Sandino memorial and the other in the department of Carazo.

The number of dead

Up until now, Cenidh has identified 292 people who have died during the protests that began last April 18th.

During his speech last July 19th, President Daniel Ortega referred by name to 22 police officials who have died during the three months of protests. Nunez stated that as a human rights organization “we haven’t made any distinctions,” and that their list includes all those killed, even the paramilitaries.  Cenidh has counted at lease 20 police killed plus some 30 other people who were either paramilitaries or had ties to the Ortega government.

Amnesty doesn’t apply here

The leader of the human rights organization declared that the crimes that have been massively committed during the protests “aren’t eligible for amnesty” because as “crimes of extermination” they “may have the characteristics of crimes against humanity.”

Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica and a recipient of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, recommended this week the “intervention” of the International Penal Court in Nicaragua’s severe sociopolitical crisis.  Nunez, however, stated that the case would have to be studied carefully, since Nicaragua is one of the four countries in the world that hasn’t been party to the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court that guide that organization.

“But there are definitely other international mechanisms for bringing these crimes to trial,” she concluded.

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Yader Luna

Yader Luna

Periodista nicaragüense, con dos décadas de trayectoria en medios escritos y digitales. Fue editor de las publicaciones Metro, La Brújula y Revista Niú. Ganador del Grand Prize Lorenzo Natali en Derechos Humanos.