Arbitrary arrests, abuse the new norm in Nicaragua

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The 21-year-old agricultural economics student, nearly two months pregnant, had hoped to escape Nicaragua with her boyfriend, but a police officer on a motorcycle blocked their path as they were getting into taxis with other students to go to a safe house.

Five police trucks loaded with masked and armed men dressed in civilian garb surrounded them. Uniformed officers began to search the students’ backpacks. One pulled out a blue-and-white Nicaraguan flag.

“These are the terrorists who killed our fellow police,” the officer shouted, using President Daniel Ortega’s term for those who have protested against his government since mid-April.

The young couple and their friends joined the ranks of more than 2,000 people arrested in Nicaragua in nearly four months of unrest and official crackdown. At least 400 people are believed to still be held in jails, prisons and police stations across the country and some consider them to be political prisoners, according to the non-governmental Nicaraguan Human Rights Center.

Others are held for days or weeks incommunicado, brutally interrogated to give names and threatened with terrorism charges before being released without explanation as Ortega’s government seeks to extinguish the resistance.

“I was hit in the face, slapped. They crushed my fingers, and hit me in the ribs and the stomach,” the pregnant student said. “When I was on the ground they kicked me.”

The Associated Press separately interviewed four of those arrested and released, all of whom are in hiding. They requested anonymity and asked that the location of their arrests not be identified out of fear of retaliation.

“Right now, without exaggerating, Nicaragua is a prison,” said Vilma Nunez, the human rights center’s president and a former supreme court vice president under Ortega’s first Sandinista government in 1979. She called Ortega’s systematic search for those involved in the unrest a “human hunt.”

Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said its monitoring team in Nicaragua found that “Nicaraguan authorities made numerous arbitrary detentions involving the use of force.” Detainees were abused, not informed of their rights or charges against them, no warrants were presented and their families were not told where they were held, according to the commission.

The Nicaraguan national police did not respond to a request for comment.

Ortega for weeks had denied that paramilitary squads and Sandinista youth groups that have clashed with or attacked protesters were working with the police, but when asked in a recent television interview how members of the opposition picked up by masked paramilitaries end up in jails, Ortega said: “We have volunteer police who cooperate with the police.”

He has dismissed the Organization of American States as a tool of the U.S. government and accused protesters and opponents of trying to stage a coup.

The current unrest began in April, when Ortega imposed cuts to the social security system and small protests by senior citizens were violently broken up. The protests spread and Nicaragua’s university students quickly became the vanguard of a push to oust the president who has ruled for the past decade. Students had been …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News


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