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

According to the Interamerican Commision on Human Rights (CIDH-IACHR) at least 1.600 self-convened protesters (autoconvocados), students, peasants and social movement leaders have been illegally detained since the start of massive protests against Nicaragua’s government in 2018. At present, December 2021, there are 157 political prisoners behind bars resulting from the repression of the 2018 protests and the political opposition, and 10 more unjustly imprisoned for political reasons before 2018.

Nicaragua’s current government, headed by president Daniel Ortega and his wife (and vice-president) Rosario Murillo, has been in power for the past fifteen years. Since the protests erupted in April 2018, the government has been unwavering in their deployment of repressive strategies to quell any and all dissent. In a wave of unprecedented state violence, more than 300 people were killed, more than 2.000 injured, and at least 1.600 arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Many of these prisoners have been subjected to beatings, psychological abuse and torture. Moreover, as a result of this violent repression, over 140.000 Nicaraguans have fled the country.

Most recently, in November 2021, they committed fraud to reelect themselves for the coming 5 years. In the run-up to the elections, they arrested over 30 opposition members, including peasant and student movement leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders.

They need our help!

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 and dissidents!

Political prisoners often smile upon their presentation before the press as a symbol of resistance and their peaceful struggle. The Aguadores (water bringers) were arrested on 14 November 2019, for bringing water to the mothers of political prisoners on a hunger strike at a church in Masaya. The detainees included former political prisoners like Amaya Coppens (who was released) and Wilfredo Brenes (who is still in imprisoned). They were charged with the ‘transport of illegal weapons’ and ‘organized crime’.
It is our task to keep the pressure on for all political prisoners releases!

Background

We started this campaing in December 2018. At the time, after 8 months of brutal repression, The Interamerican Commision on Human Rights’ (CIDH-IACHR) Independent, Interdisciplinary Experts Group (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 Nicaraguan state and the 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, led by the Sandinista party (FSLN), has total control over the legislative, executive, and judicial powers. They control the law-making National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional), which means they can pass laws at will. During the protests, in the midst of the government “Clean-up Operation” (Operación Limpieza), an anti-terrorism law rapidly approved by the 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. Since, the government has implemented a variety of new freedom-restricting laws, including an anti-cyber crime “muzzle law” aimed at suppressing dissent both in print and television media and on social media, and “national sovereignty” law to detain dissidents indefinitely. In November 2020, they also began the legislative process for a constitutional amendment to be able to implement life sentences. This constitutional amendment took place in 2021, clearing the way for the indiscriminate detention of protesters and political opponents toward and in the aftermath of the November 2021 elections. With the elections now in rear-view, Ortega is on for a fourth consecutive term with less than 15% of the vote. According to Urnas Abiertas, about 81% abstained from voting in the rigged elections and, according to the government-aligned CSE about 75% of those who did come out to vote did so for the governing party.

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

In spite of widespread international criticism and numerous human rights denouncements made both to the IACHR and the UN Human Rights Commission, Ortega’s regime has been using all means (legal and illegal) at their disposal to criminalize different forms of exercising the right to protest and expression.

After the outright repression and the crackdown on the protests by the National Police in conjunction with irregular armed forces (para-police groups or Sandinista militias), this consistent criminalization has been characterized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OHCHR as the third stage of repression. In their 2020 report, comprising a thorough investigation of 2 years of human rights violations, they have moreover denounced the widespread use of torture and sexual violence against political prisoners (you can read the full report here).

Para-police groups (FSLN 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. Some of the arrests have been made by para-police groups or party militias 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 para-police groups 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.

This website

This website was created by a group of Nicaraguan and European activists, including former political prisoners and their family members, in support of Nicaragua’s political prisoners in 2018. Together we formed a working group, which is an autonomous part of the SOSNicaragua-Europe network. We have organized three recolectas (fundraisers) to support the associations of family members of political prisoners in providing for their loved ones behind bars.

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

You can find more information on how to to donate and help family members support their imprisoned loved ones on the ‘help us’ pages in English, Spanish, French, and Dutch – these tabs include punctual information about this campaign in the respective languages.

Under ‘Political Imprisonment in Nicaragua‘ you can learn more about the general situation of political prisoners, the patterns of violations of their human and civil rights, and the legal irregularities in their cases.

On our blog ‘News & Prisoner Profiles‘ you can learn more about the characteristics of different cases of political imprisonment – from students and student leaders, to peasant and social movement leaders, to autoconvocados (self-convened protesters), people framed as scapegoats, and government critics. You also find the results of our past campaigns under that tab. We are very grateful to all those who have supported and continue to support this initiative!

Why support us?

We directly send all donations made to our campaign to the associations of political prisoners and their family members, and work together with them closely to ensure those who need it most are helped first. 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, family members 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, CIDH). 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 €50-€100 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.

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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