Andrea Margarita del Carmen’s last 35 days in exile have been devastating. Formerly the director of the shuttered writers’ organization PEN Nicaragua, has had to deal with the imprisonment of her son, Gabriel Alfonso Lopez, a 34-year-old accountant. Lopez’ imprisonment is part of a new stage in the repression exercised by the Ortega-Murillo regime, in which they jail the family members of those who escaped their political persecution, in an attempt to capture their intended victims.
On September 14, Lopez was arrested by the police while at the Managua home of his grandmother – Andrea Margarita’s mother – who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
Sixteen days later, on September 30, Lopez was charged with the fabricated crime of “undermining the national integrity.” His preliminary hearing took place around noon on October 1 and his trial continued on the 19th, before Judge Rolando Sanarrusia Muguia. That judge, who presides over Managua’s Sixth District Criminal Court, has a record of rubber-stamping the persecution of political prisoners.
Andrea Margarita stated that the police officers initially took her son’s cell phone and used it to send her messages, which she ignored. It was then that Lopez was taken to the infamous El Chipote jail, which has been denounced as a torture center for the Nicaraguan dictatorship.
“When the family went to the jail to ask about him, they were told that I was the one they were interested in, and that he’d be released only if I turned myself in. We’ve confirmed that he’s in there, but no one in the family has been allowed to see him. Not even the lawyer,” the human rights activist told journalist Cindy Regidor during an interview broadcast over the online television news program Esta Noche.
During the interview, Andrea Margarita defined herself as an advocate for freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to organize. All three rights are enshrined in Nicaragua’s Constitution but are currently considered criminal activities in the country.
The mother stated that she didn’t hold any positive expectations for the hearing on October 19. Rather, she imagined that the police would produce as “evidence” a series of false profiles they created on social media, plus the accusatory testimony of the uniformed officers.
According to the report from the October 1st hearing – as of today, the only information available through the electronic court system – the “evidence” presented wasn’t clear. At that time, the public defender stated that the declaration of facts failed to specify what use the accused made of social media between 2020 and 2022.
The same document makes reference to two posts between January and August, “in which a publication is shared from a website where the only commentary is that sanctions are being applied to the sandisapos [common slur combining the words for Sandinista and for toad]. It doesn’t state the criminal offense that has been committed. Reproducing two posts doesn’t add up to conspiring against the Nicaraguan State, hence I ask that the [accusation] be restated,” the public defender declared.
The defense of the accused was later taken on by a private attorney. However, Ana Margarita is clear that the state-sponsored persecution of her son has caused her family great pain. The regime’s decision to prosecute Gabriel Lopez is not only unjust but shameful, since it reveals how they’ve reached the extreme of punishing other people for being relatives of those under political persecution.
“We’re all innocent. We’re not criminals, nor did we ever plan coup d’etats, but the worst thing is that these are things you see in movies about the drug cartels, where they take your family members hostage,” Andrea Margarita affirmed.
Persecution of Javier Alvarez’ family
Javier Alvarez is in a similar situation with his family members. His wife Jeannine Horvilleur Cuadra, and his daughter, Ana Carolina, plus his son-in-law, Felix Ernesto Roiz are all being accused in the same courtroom of “conspiracy” and “spreading fake news.”
Alvarez and his lawyer declined to comment on the hearing that was held on October 18. As in the previous case, the only record available is that posted on the court’s electronic system regarding the initial hearing held on October 1.
In this case, the defense emphasized the fact that there wasn’t even a description of the supposed police investigation of the case. “[The prosecution’s report] makes reference to the fact that the accused, Felix Roiz, published fake news via his social media, but the circumstances aren’t made clear in the Public Prosecutor’s Office report,” the lawyer stated.
The Alvarez family was initially represented by a public defender, but the case is now in the hands of a private attorney.
Dulce Porras’ growing worries
Freddy Martin Porras Garcia is another family member being held in retribution for his mother’s escape. He, too, was charge on October 1st with “the crime of “conspiracy” and “spreading fake news”. His initial hearing is programmed for October 21 at 2 pm, according to the official information.
Dulce Porras, sister of the accused, is an opposition leader who had to flee into exile. She’s currently living through days of great anxiety. “The family is in agony. He has a wife and three daughters,” Porras stated by telephone.
Dulce Porras is a leader of the outlawed Unamos party, formerly the Sandinista Renewal Movement. Her brother, who is not politically active, was arrested at his home in the Carazo department and jailed on September 15, amid Nicaragua’s traditional Independence Day festivities.