Support Nicaragua’s Political Prisoners

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We, concerned citizens of Nicaragua and people of the solidarity movement across Europe, have created this web platform and campaign for the liberation and support of Nicaragua’s political prisoners to raise awareness, inform you, provide you with ways to participate, and support the political prisoners. 

May the bars of the cells / turn to sugar or bend of mercy / and my brothers go and do again / love and revolution. 

– Mario Benedetti

Many student, peasant and social movement leaders have been illegally detained since the start of massive protests against Nicaragua’s government. This government, headed by president Daniel Ortega and his wife (and vice-president) Rosario Murillo, has been in power for the past twelve years. Since the protests erupted on 19 April 2018, after the murder of two students at the hands of police, the government has been unwavering in their deployment of repressive strategies to quell any and all dissent.

In 2018, in a wave of unprecedented state violence, more than 300 people have been killed, more than 2.000 injured, over 900 imprisoned and many more arbitrarily detained (source: CIDH). More than 100.000 people have fled the country since. While most political prisoners were provisionally released starting in February 2019 or ‘pardoned’ following the implementation of a controversial Amnesty Law in June 2019, there are still more than 90 political prisoners in Nicaragua as of July 2020 and they need your help!

Many former prisoners have testified to the horrendous conditions under which they were forced to spend their time, including numerous accounts of beatings, sexual violence, verbal abuse, physical and psychological torture, and the withholding of food, water, and natural light.

We join in the demand for the liberation of ALL political prisoners in Nicaragua, an immediate halt to the continuing repression and intimidation of the Nicaraguan people, and justice for the grave state-led crimes committed against protesters!

Part of the group of Aguadores (water bringers) arrested on 14 November 2019, including Atahualpa Quintero, Amaya Coppens, Jesús Tefel, Gabriel Ramos, Hanzel Quintero, Ivannia Álvarez, Neyma Hernández, Wendy Juárez, Olga Valle, Olama Hurtado, and Roberto Büschting. They have been charged with the ‘transport of illegal weapons’ and ‘organized crime’. Political prisoners often smile upon their presentation before the press as a symbol of resistance and their peaceful struggle. Photo courtesy.

Background

At the end of 2018, after 8 months of brutal repression, The Interamerican Human Rights Commision (CIDH) Group of Independent, Interdisciplinary Experts (GIEI) concluded in their thorough, 235-page report that crimes against humanity were committed by the Nicaraguan state against its people. Yet the day before the report was to be made public, the government expelled all CIDH missions, including the GIEI, from Nicaragua. Since, two failed dialogue attempts and dozens of international declarations to cease repression later, the Nicaraguans state and the nascent opposition union have been in a stale-mate, with the state forcefully maintaining the upper hand.

National Police on their way to repress a protest in Managua, Nicaragua, 2018. Photo courtesy El Nuevo Diario.

The Government of Nicaragua, or Sandinista party (FSLN), has total control over the legislative, executive, and judicial powers. During the protests, in the midst of the government “Clean-up Operation” (Operación Limpieza), an anti-terrorism law was approved by the Sandinista-majority National Assembly. The definition of terrorism in this Law, however, has been criticized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner (OHCHR) for its strong potential to be used arbitrarily.

Protesters carry a murdered protester over the barricades in Monimbo (Masaya), Nicaragua, 2018. Photo courtesy.

In spite of this criticism, the State of Nicaragua has been using it to criminalize different forms of exercising the right to protest. After its outright repression and the crackdown on the protests by the National Police in conjunction with irregular armed forces (paramilitaries), this criminalization has been characterized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR as the third stage of repression.

Paramilitary militias in the city of Leon, Nicaragua, 2018. Photo courtesy.

To date political prisoners are being held on frequently false charges of various crimes, which often lack evidence. Many of the arrests have been made by paramilitaries in coordination with the police and under a process of media stigmatization by the pro-government media landscape. Despite the fact that both national and international human rights commissions have held the State, the National Police and the paramilitaries responsible for the majority of the deaths and other human rights violations that occurred during the crisis, none of these actors are being prosecuted at present.

A masked anti-government protester takes part in a march called “March of the balloons” in Managua, Nicaragua on 9 September 2018. The signal reads “Freedom for political prisoners”. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

Under ‘Political Imprisonment in Nicaragua‘ you can learn more about the situation of political prisoners, the violations of their human rights, and the legal irregularities in their cases. The widespread imprisonment of protesters worsened after the passing of an ‘anti-terrorism’ law on 20 July 2018, which has a very broad definition of ‘terrorism’. While a controversial Amnesty law, passed on 8 June 2019, effectively pardoned most political prisoners, people continue to be persecuted and imprisoned on political grounds. At the moment (November 2019) there are more than 150 political prisoners still being held in Nicaragua’s prison system.

On our blog ‘News & Prisoner Profiles‘ you can learn more about the different cases – from students and student leaders, to peasant and social movement leaders, to autoconvocados (self-convened protesters), people framed as scapegoats, and government critics. You can also always go directly to the blog posts by clicking on one of the blog categories all the way below.

Under ‘Participate & Donate‘ you can find more information on how to help us fight for the liberation of these prisoners, and how to help their family members support them financially. To this end, we work together closely with the Nicaraguan Committee of Family Members of Political Prisoners. 

Why is it so important to help Nicaraguan associations of political prisoners and their family members? Because beside their lawyers, political prisoners are only allowed to receive visits from their family. More importantly, only one family member per prisoner is authorized to bring a prisoner maintenance packets. As such, they are the only ones who can bring these prisoners food, medicine and personal hygiene products.

It is common knowledge that Nicaraguan prisoners do not receive adequate food, hygiene or health care (CENIDH). The country’s prison system is highly overcrowded and underfunded, and was already in this state before this political crisis began. Despite the construction of some new facilities, most of its prisons are in bad shape. Prisoners continue to largely depend on their families to survive – both physically and emotionally. While awaiting trial in police jails, family members must bring prisoners food daily. When in the prison system, they must bring weekly or bi-weekly packets with food and personal hygiene products as the food that the prison system provides is by all standards inadequate (quantity, quality, and hygiene) and needs to be supplemented. Former political prisoners have moreover noted that prison food is often served to them with pieces of glass, rocks or insects in it.

As such, just like mattresses, pillows, covers, and clothes, family members must provide for practically all of a prisoner’s basic needs. Families spend an average of €60-€120 per month to visit and care for their imprisoned relatives.

You can imagine that this puts a tremendous strain on families, who are often of little means and already suffer economically with the crisis and the imprisonment of their relatives (most political prisoners had economic responsibilities for their families, many have young children, and some are in bad health). In some cases multiple members of the same families have been imprisoned. As mentioned, due to the system’s rules and regulations, food and hygiene packets can only by brought to political prisoners by their family members and not by other organizations, as political prisoners are not being allowed to participate in any prison-based activities. As all political prisoners are held in the Chipote jail, La Modelo (men’s) or La Esperanza (women’s) penitentiaries – all of which are located in or close to Managua – this also means that some family members must travel from far to be able to make the deliveries to their imprisoned relatives.

This permanent campaign works directly with the Nicaraguan Union of Political Prisoners and the Committee of Political Prisoners’ Family Members. These see to the equal distribution of gathered resources.

During their hearing in 2018, student leaders of the Leonese 19 April Student Movement [now released] raise their fists and shout “Fuerza Nicaragua” (Strength, Nicaragua). Many political prisoners try to appear to their hearings with a smile to defy the government officials and give hope to the Nicaraguans on the outside. Photo courtesy.
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