Facing threats and repression from prison authorities, they have adopted a phased hunger strike; fear of denouncing their situation grows among relatives.
By Yader Luna (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – On October 30, Norlan Cardenas Ortiz, will complete eleven months in prison and one month of a hunger strike. It is a desperate measure that he took along with more than 50 political prisoners of the Ortega-Murillo government. They make a cry out to demand their freedom.
Fifteen days after the start of the protest, the political prisoners announced they will be fasting, although in a phased manner. This due to the fact that the Prison authorities have prevented them from accessing saline solution. The guards force them to eat by means of threats, beatings and sending them to maximum security cells, confirmed the April Victims Organization.
Norlan’s sister, Ruth Martinez Ortiz, asserts that she is sure that he will remain firm in the strike. The last time she saw him, on October 8, he confirmed that he was not eating food. A few days ago, she learned that her brother is okay, despite not being allowed to phone his family.
“He is strong. He tells us that from outside we should demand their freedom, that they are fighting from within,” she says. “Strength and hope,” are the two words this young man, 32, says every time he can speak.
“The siege is never-ending”
Norlan asks his sister to denounce everything. To not be silent. “We live under permanent siege and persecution, but you lose the fear, although the anguish is horrendous,” Ruth explains.
“If I have to serve my 16-year sentence here in jail, I’ll be here.” That’s what Norlan told her the last time they saw each other.
She assures that she will continue to protest. “We don’t carry weapons to the pickets, just posters with the photos of our relatives who are unjustly imprisoned.”
In a letter addressed to their relatives, which was made public, the inmates who remain without eating confirmed their desire to survive. “We will soon emerge from these dungeons. We will not die without seeing our Nicaragua free from this tyranny,” wrote one of the political prisoners.
September 30: The strike begins
A total of 53 political prisoners began a hunger strike on September 30, at six in the morning. Three of them sewed their mouths in protest against their unjust confinement. But, in retaliation, they were transferred to maximum security cells at the “La Modelo” prison, their relatives reported.
The three political prisoners who sewed their mouth are: Jose Santos Rodriguez, from Masaya; Ernesto Ramirez, from Jinotepe; and Nestor Montealto, from Managua. They “chose to sew their mouths with a thread, as a protest mechanism against the difficult situation they face.”
It is unknown how many remain firm in the face of threats and mistreatment by prison authorities. “It is unknown exactly how many are still on hunger strike because many are being forced to eat,” said Julio Montenegro, a Peoples’ Defender lawyer in an interview on the “Esta Noche” program.
According to the information obtained by Victims of April, the jailers removed the strings from the inmates who had sewn their lips together and sent them to punishment dungeons. Others, they affirm, “were beaten, threatened, denied the right to the sun patio. Some were taken out of their cells for a picture with food, so that it seemed that they are eating. Then they were locked up again,” Rodrigo Navarrete, a member of Victims group, told the EFE agency.
According to that organization, for fear of further reprisals, some of the relatives have asked the prisoners to abandon the hunger strike. However, they preferred to change to a phased protest. This consists of several groups that strike for three days, and then rest.
Relatives ask for action
Organizations of relatives of the political prisoners demanded that they be released before November 15. Furthermore, they demand that the Organization of American States (OAS) declare the government of Ortega and Murillo illegitimate.
“As relatives of political prisoners, we ask for no more truce for the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. They are the perpetrators of crimes against humanity,” says their statement signed by several groups of relatives and victims.
Minutes later they held a protest picket. It was besieged by the National Police, which they denounced as a “hardening of the repression.”
Prisoners health deteriorates
The endless humiliations experienced by Celia Cruz, a transgender woman, imprisoned for opposing the regime, haven’t stopped. Much less now that she joined the hunger strike.
“She is a victim of mistreatment by the deputy prison warden, who forces her to eat and orders photos taken. In addition, Celia suffers severe pain in her knees and hips from sleeping on the floor on a very thin mat.” That fact was denounced by Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders.
Her mother, Vilma Cruz, says she clings to the hope Celia will be out soon because she is innocent.
“Despite the fact that she has been constantly threatened, beaten and humiliated, nothing succeeds in breaking her. I haven’t spoken with her to learn if she is still striking because of the lack of communication.” However, the mother notes that on previous occasions Celia told her she is depressed and “can’t stand” being locked up.
Celia was arrested on April 21, after a violent incursion by the Police into the Esquipulas community on Ometepe Island. The police assault came at an activity commemorating the two years of the April Rebellion.
We hold the State of Nicaragua responsible for the life and physical, moral and psychological integrity of Celia Cruz and the rest of the people who remain on hunger strike. We remind the state of its duty to inform the families clearly, truthfully and in detail on their condition,” said the Mesoamerican Human Rights Defenders.
They restrict visits and do not inform
Through their relatives, some prisoners of conscience announced that, since October 14, when they had fifteen days of protesting, a group would sew their eyelids.
The People Defenders’ lawyer, Montenegro, stated they had no information on whether they were able to carry out that extreme act of protest. “There is very little information for us as lawyers and for their families,” he noted.
The organizations demanding the release of the political prisoners, said there are currently 114 government opponents in Nicaraguan jails, of which 104 were detained in the context of the citizens protests that began in April of 2018, and ten since before the social outbreak of that year.
The prisoners asked their wives and mothers to try to convince the Apostolic Nuncio in Nicaragua, Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, and the Organization of American States (OAS) to intercede for them with President Daniel Ortega, since they were witnesses to the agreement signed between the Government and the opposition for their release in 2019.
They have also asked the UN, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the entire international community to intercede for their release.
Red Cross: the only organization with access
Montenegro said that several of his clients have informed him that their family and conjugal visits are been restricted. For that reason, relatives of the political prisoners demand the International Red Cross verify their conditions.
He stated that “there is a lot of hope” that they will intervene to find out their health status. The lawyer gave as an example the case of Edward Lacayo. He was beaten by guards at the “La Modelo” prison after showing solidarity with several political prisoners who were punished and moved to Gallery 300, maximum security, for refusing to be photographed with food.
“Given the rumor that he had died, the Red Cross sent a photograph as evidence that (Edward) Lacayo was alive. He appears somewhat deteriorated, very thin…with a Red Cross official. They are the only ones who have had access to the prison,” said Montenegro.
One of the sisters of a political prisoner who has been in jail for five months, but who prefers to not mention her name for fear of reprisals, stated that he was transferred to maximum security because he refused to eat.
“They kicked and dragged him out of the cell, and the others were told that this would happen if they wanted to continue to make a show (protest),” she denounced. She had learned what happened from the mother of another of the political prisoners.
She insists it is a cruel act that they can’t even protest for their freedom. “Many—she relates—are there precisely for demonstrating against this criminal regime.”