The Ortega-Murillo regime's National Police accused the director of Miss Nicaragua, Karen Celebertti Moncada, her husband, Martín Argüello Leiva, and their son, Bernardo Argüello Celebertti, of "treason" and acts related to "financing terrorism." Two attorneys consulted by CONFIDENCIAL consider this accusation to be a "malicious mockery" and "a baseless aberration" that only reveals the improper functioning of the Nicaraguan justice system.
The police accusations were made on December 1, in a press release full of disparaging adjectives. Technically, the statement is not a criminal accusation. However, in the text, the police essentially condemn and convict the Argüello Celebertti family, using the same model of repression applied against more than a thousand political prisoners of the dictatorship.
The accusations come a week after Nicaraguan Sheynnis Palacios won the Miss Universe crown and hundreds of Nicaraguans spontaneously took to the streets to celebrate, waving blue and white national flags – something which had not been seen since the hardening of the de facto police state imposed in September 2018. The dictatorship has responded to acts of support for Ms.Palacios' victory with persecution and imprisonment, targeting the family of the director of the Miss Nicaragua franchise.
For lawyer and former political prisoner, Ana Margarita Vijil, the police press release "is an absolute aberration" and "further confirmation of the decadence surrounding a deranged couple."
"The success of our Miss Universe, Sheynnis Palacios, should be a reason for national pride and not a pretext for political persecution," reflected the released political prisoner, Felix Maradiaga, through a written statement.
Maradiaga considers that these accusations "are not only unfounded but also represent a serious misrepresentation and politicization of cultural events such as the Miss Universe pageant."
Below, CONFIDENCIAL lists the reasons why the accusations have no legal basis and are, rather, an act of political persecution.
Acts fall under the Self-Amnesty Law
According to the police, Karen Celebertti, Martín Argüello Leiva, and Bernardo Argüello Celebertti, actively participated in the mass protests against the Ortega-Murillo regime in 2018. The regime characterizes these demonstrations as "terrorist actions of the failed coup attempt," which were supposedly planned by "international agencies and foreign missions." In reality, the spontaneous protests arose in response to an unpopular reform to the Social Security system.
The police state that "for the acts committed in 2018," the Argüello Celebertti family must "serve their sentences" for the crimes of "conspiracy to disturb the peace and incite hatred, violence, terrorism, and organized crime." However, all these "crimes" related to the 2018 protests fall under Law 996, also known as the Amnesty Law, which entered into force on June 10, 2019. The law was approved by the regime with the intent of leaving unpunished all crimes committed by police and paramilitary forces against the self-organized population that took to the streets to protest against the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship.
"Broad amnesty shall be granted to all persons who have participated in the events that occurred throughout the national territory starting on April 18, 2018, until the date this Law becomes effective," reads the first article of the Amnesty Law.
"Malicious" interpretation of the Amnesty Law
The police are also applying a "malicious" interpretation of the Amnesty Law, warns criminal lawyer and human rights defender Yonarqui Martínez.
The police press release states that this law only covers "those who had been convicted or were in the process of investigation" in 2018, although the law's text is quite specific. According to the second paragraph of the first article of the Amnesty Law, "This amnesty extends to persons who have not been investigated, who are under investigation, in criminal proceedings to determine responsibility, and carrying out their sentences,"
There is no crime to prosecute
Celebertti, her husband, and her son are also accused of maintaining communication with "promoters of treason" and of allegedly using their franchises in a conspiracy to "turn the [beauty] contests into political traps and ambushes," financed by foreign agents.
"Essentially they are being condemned for having friendships," says attorney Martinez. At the same time, she clarifies that crimes are not transferable and that "a person can talk to a criminal, but that does not make them a criminal."
In addition, the fact that a person has the phone number of a political opponent registered in their phone does not mean that they are going to carry out an act against the government. "They are even trying to influence the type of people with whom one can have contact," said Martínez.
The police press release replicates the tone of the attacks led by Ortega and Murillo against any type of dissidence. Similar to the cases of the majority of political prisoners and exiles, the press release provides no evidence for their accusations and declares a priori convictions without respect for the human rights contained in both Nicaragua's own Constitution and the international conventions to which Nicaragua is a signatory.
Alleged evidence is unsubstantiated
In its eagerness to substantiate all these accusations, the police admit in its statement that it seized cell phones and technological equipment belonging to the Argüello Celebertti family, even though there was no judicial process against them. If there had been, the police would have contaminated the evidence, according to Martinez.
Martinez explains that in the hypothetical case that the equipment seized from the Argüello Celebertti family could be evidence in a judicial process, that equipment should be in the hands of the National Evidence Center because "when the police manipulate the evidence there is contamination of the evidence."
A sample of the regime's paranoia
On a general level, Martinez believes that the police statement goes beyond the standards of logic, reason, and law, because it puts forth "unfounded charges" in the context of a regime that "manipulates" the laws as it pleases.
"It seems to me both ill-intentioned and a mockery that the celebration of a beauty contest is being handled in a paranoid manner, as a coup d'état," Martinez added.
Martinez adds that this onslaught against the director of Miss Nicaragua, her husband, and son shows the desperation of the regime. The regime "does not tolerate that a person with success in a contest is admired by the whole country" and perceives that success as "a threat."
"Organizing a beauty contest and being successful is now a crime of 'anti-patriotic' treason according to the accusation and condemnation made by the Ortega-Murillo regime against Karen Celebertti, her husband, and son. All the impotence and frustration of the dictatorship is on display," wrote historian and former political prisoner, Dora María Téllez, through her account on the social network X (formerly Twitter).