During the last three months, more than fifty Nicaraguans had to go to police stations before 8:00 a.m. to sign a notebook and be photographed, thus complying with a precautionary measure imposed by Ortega’s judges in express hearings held between the night of May 3 to the early morning of May 4, 2023, in Managua. So far, none of those involved has been informed about their judicial process, while fears are growing that they could be kidnapped.
“My life has changed. I have an immense fear, the apprehension that at any moment they will come, and they will take me away,” said Dolores, who preferred not to give her real name. Her routine made a 180-degree turn since the Ortega justice system accused her along with more than fifty people— of which charges against thirty are known— for the crimes of “conspiracy and undermining national integrity” and “dissemination of fake news.”
Thursday, August 3, marked three months since the Ortega police executed the roundup of citizens in eleven of the country’s fifteen departments. The accused are on alert to the risks of being transported to the courts. “I have a lot of fear of the worse, but I am holding on to the hand of God,” says Dolores.
Secrecy about judicial processes
There is a lot of secrecy on the judicial cases of these Nicaraguans, warns lawyer Yonarqui Martinez. It is not known whether the judicial system actually held hearings to allow their detention for up to ninety days while they are investigated. Although the group is not in jail, they are under house arrest. If in jail, the courts would have to take some judicial actions after the deadline of that 90-day period, but, likely, they are not under that legal requirement.
“There is a huge gap because neither the court process has continued, nor is there a measure in which their rights are guaranteed. There is no other action in the courts or that indicates to us that they are going to comply with the procedures established in the Criminal Procedural Code,” explained the lawyer.
According to article 134 of the Criminal Code, the duration of the judicial process with a person arrested for “a serious crime” implies a sentence in a term no longer than three months counted from the first hearing. “If there is no defendant in custody, the period shall be increased to six months.”
“If the terms indicated for the criminal proceeding elapse without the accused being detained, without a verdict or sentence delivered, the criminal action will be extinguished and the judge should decree the dismissal of the case,” the law states.
However, Martinez points out that it is not known whether the cases were considered complex processes, which would imply a doubling of the time periods. Under this scenario, the judge has up to one year to dictate a sentence. But regardless of this, the initial hearing should have already taken place.
“The Police have them in their custody because the judge has not notified them. They are in an irregular process, which should be closed. Since it began, it is illegitimate, null, and void,” the lawyer said.
“You are never prepared to go to prison”
Amanda, another one of those in legal limbo, was seated in front of a policeman while she was being videotaped when he said: “we want peace.” And immediately, she was warned that they hoped there would be no acts of vandalism —blue and white graffiti, stickers-, nothing that would disturb public order in the municipality.
The woman goes to sign in from Monday to Sunday very early in the morning. She once tried to ask permission to come at a different time of the day due to a family health situation but was denied. These three months have been horrific, she says, because they are surveilling all the time. “We are anxious, we don’t sleep well, we don’t eat well,” she relates.
As time passes, uncertainty grows. She has internalized that they will be sent to trial, that they will be found guilty, their nationality may be taken away and even confiscate their assets, as the Ortega regime has already done with hundreds of other political prisoners.
“You are never prepared to go to prison,” comments Amanda, who acknowledges that neither her children nor her parents are ready for that stage, but she is aware that it could soon become a reality.
“Luis” has lived in Costa Rica for the last three months. They have been difficult days emotionally because he was not planning to go into exile and be suddenly separated from his family. “We are paying the price of living in freedom,” he says regretfully. He was one of the Nicaraguans charged in absentia on May 3. He managed to flee before the Police arrived at his home.
Exile as a strategy of the regime
The raid ordered by the Ortega regime also implies the confiscation of passports, identity cards, cell phones, computers, and even money of more than 50 defendants, and so far, no documents or material goods have been returned.
“These people have gone to sign every day. They arrive very early to present themselves so that officers see them sign and photograph them. Some have been called privately to tell them that they are being watched,” says activist Ivania Alvarez, who has followed up on their cases.
“We have received reports of besiegement of these people, mainly on July 19 (when the Sandinista Revolution is commemorated). They are always threatened,” says Alvarez.
According to analysts and Ortega opponents, with this new form of repression, the regime seeks to push dissidents still resisting in Nicaragua into exile. Of the more than 50 affected, at least 20 have left the country, several sources confirmed to Confidencial.
Alvarez explains that once in exile, the Police threaten their relatives and tell them that “if they return,” they will be kidnapped while informing them that they will “always” be under surveillance.