Jailed Opposition Leaders Denied Legal Representation

Access to the Managua Judicial Complex is off limits to journalists and to some of the political prisoners’ relatives. Photo: Nayira Valenzuela / Confidencial

Lawyers chosen by relatives of those in jail are “annulled” by the courts and are now being threatened and told to abandon these cases.

By Ivette Munguia (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The 21 hostages imprisoned by the Ortega-Murillo government over the last few weeks have been stripped of their Constitutional protections, as well as their freedom. Since being imprisoned, their rights and guarantees are ignored, and the police won’t allow them to meet with their lawyers and relatives.

In addition, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has demanded 90 days of detention, supposedly for purposes of conducting an investigation. The Court rejected all the legal appeals that were filed and has assigned them public defenders. All of this leaves the victims completely defenseless.

The lack of guarantees and the due process violations “have been generalized” over the last three years, states Attorney Gonzalo Carrion of the Nicaragua Nunca+ [Never again] Human Rights Collective. But it’s more notorious now, because it’s happening in 100% of the cases.

The lawyers chosen by the prisoners’ relatives “were annulled” by the Court “only one, as an exception, had a very short interview with their client. That’s not a defense,” Carrion emphasized.

“There’s a complete sweeping away of rights,” the human rights defender explained. “From the inception right through to the end, these are totally aberrant legal procedures. They lack all legal basis.” The measure depriving them of liberty is “arbitrary and unconstitutional”, because a person can only be detained “when they’re committing a crime, which isn’t the case, or when there’s a warrant from a competent authority,” he specified.

Article 33 of the Nicaraguan Constitution establishes that all detainees have the right to be informed of the causes of their detention: “without delay, in the language they understand and in detail”. It also establishes the right of those arrested to have their family members, or whoever they choose, informed of their detention. Further, the article mandates that detainees be treated “with all due respect for their inherent dignity as a human being.”

In case of being legally processed, Article 34 lays out the right “to due process and effective legal protections”. This implies, among other things, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; the right to a speedy trial; guarantees of intervention and defense; not being forced to testify against yourself, or to submit a false guilty confession. In addition, prisoners have the right to a public and oral legal process.

“Under dictatorships, there are no rights and guarantees”

Gonzalo Carrion noted that the way the regime has proceeded against the latest 21 detainees is “a very crude exhibition of brute force on the part of the dictatorship.” He noted: “in dictatorships, there are no rights and guarantees. Rights must be defended and abuses denounced, like what’s happening.”

Managua’s Judicial Complex. Photo: Nayira Valenzuela / Confidencial

According to the Ortega regime, the latest hostages are being “investigated” for crimes of treason to the nation, as laid out in the recently passed “Sovereignty Law”, and for allegations of money laundering. Among the prisoners are five presidential candidates; two former diplomats; two historic guerilla leaders now, Sandinista dissidents; two former members of Congress; a former business leader; a banker; four opposition activists; a sports chronicler; two former employees of an NGO; and a private chauffer.

The first 30 days of imprisonment

On Sunday, June 27, Walter Gomez and Marcos Fletes, former employees of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, marked 30 days in the infamous “New Chipote” jail. Meanwhile, Cristiana Chamorro, former Foundation president and independent presidential candidate, is approaching 25 days under house arrest. She’s the only detainee who’s been seen by some close family members.  Meanwhile, scholar and presidential candidate Arturo Cruz has been imprisoned for 22 days. Cruz’ relatives have not been allowed to see him, but he was allowed one short 20-minute meeting with his lawyer.

Meanwhile, presidential candidates Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, as well as opposition leaders Violeta Granera and Jose Adan Aguerri, remain jailed and incommunicado for 19 days. Jose Pallais marks 18 days in jail and Tamara Davila 15 days.

More recent prisoners include five members of the Unamos party: Dora Maria Tellez, Victor Hugo Tinoco, Hugo Torres, Ana Margarita Vijil and Suyen Barahona. They’ve been imprisoned for 14 days. Businessman Luis Rivas Anduray and Pedro Vasquez, Cristiana Chamorro’s personal chauffer, are marking 12 days in jail.

Journalist and presidential candidate Miguel Mora has been jailed for 7 days, in this, his second, illegal detention. Sports chronicler Miguel Mendoza and former first lady Maria Fernanda Flores were jailed 6 days ago, and former Congressman Pedro Joaquin Chamorro is beginning his second day as a prisoner.

All these prisoners are being held in complete isolation. This, too “is a serious violation of their human rights,” Gonzalo Carrion advised. The regime’s objective is to “break their will, so they’ll say anything they’re told to”. Because of this, “We shouldn’t be surprised if videos of a broken person appear, as in 2018.

Lawyers receive threats

Even though the efforts of the detainees’ lawyers have been fruitless, in the last few weeks they’ve begun receiving threats via their cellphones. This has caused some to abandon these cases, while others have stopped offering declarations to the media. This situation was denounced by relatives of the detained.

A source close to Jose Adan Aguerri explained that the lawyer in charge of his case told them he’d decided to drop it, “due to threats I’ve had”.  “We spent two days without a lawyer,” the source stated. During that time, the family had to knock on a number of doors to obtain a defense attorney for their relative. Aguerri is the former president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep).

Ana Lucia Alvarez, who is Ana Margarita Vijil’s niece, and Tamara Davila’s sister, confirmed that finding a legal defense for the imprisoned opposition members has been, “a completely complex matter in itself”. In addition to the lawyers not being allowed to meet with their clients, they’re “being targeted.”

The threats to the attorneys coincide with the broadcast of an official program where the announcer read off a list of lawyers that defend political prisoners. He then declared that they’re “paid by Cosep”, an organization he classified as a “foreign agent”.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.