Support Nicaragua’s Political Prisoners

// We are currently updating our website as a large number of political prisoners were released between May-June 2019. However, 102 remain in prison and the repression of the Ortega-Murillo government has not stopped. People are still being imprisoned every day and former political prisoners are suffering constant police harassment. We are currently exploring possibilities of setting up a third campaign, both in continuation of our work with the Committee of Family Members for the Liberation of Political Prisoners and exploring collaboration with the Union of Political Prisoners of Nicaragua. //

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.

By now, in a wave of unprecedented state violence, 300+ people have been killed, thousands injured, and 700+ imprisoned (source: CIDH/CENIDH). The Interamerican Human Rights Commision (CIDH) Group of Independent, Interdisciplinary Experts (GIEI) recently concluded in their thorough, 235-page report that crimes against humanity were committed in the brutal repression of the protests. The day before the report was to be made public the government expelled all CIDH missions, including the GIEI, from Nicaragua.

National Police on their way to repress a protest in Managua, Nicaragua. 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” (Operacion Limpieza), an anti-terrorism law was 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.

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

To date more than 700 people are being held on charges of various crimes despite the lack of 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’. At this moment, many protesters are awaiting trial for ‘terrorism’ just for raising their voices against the government.

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.

Finally, 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 the Committee of Family Members of Political Prisoners? 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 was already overcrowded and underfunded before this political crisis began, and most of its prisons are in bad shape. Prisoners 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. All other products can only be bought in prison. As such, just like mattresses, pillows, covers, and clothes, family members must provide for 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. This also means that some family members must travel from far to be able to make the deliveries to their imprisoned relatives.

In order to collectively fight for the liberation of their loved ones, to inform one another on the judicial process, to provide emotional support, and to collectively organize the support of their family members, the Committee of Family Members of Political Prisoners of Nicaragua was established. This permanent campaign works together with the Committee directly. The Committee sees to the equal distribution of gathered resources, including to the different departments of Nicaragua (as many political prisoners, though imprisoned in the capital, come from different departments).

During their hearing, student leaders of the Leonese 19 April Student Movement 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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