Nicaragua: “Express” Arrests to Push Opposition into Exile

Citizens are detained for a period of three – five hours, during which they’re interrogated, threatened with prison time and warned that the police are “watching them”.

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – In the first seven months of 2022, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo subjected some 30 Nicaraguans to “express” jail time, according to the citizens’ observation group Urnas Abiertas. During these short detentions – from 3 to 5 hours – the citizens were interrogated, threatened with years in prison and warned that the authorities are “watching them.”

Urnas Abiertas counted 24 reported detentions of this kind up until June 24; however, between July and the first days of August, cases could reach 30, indicated Ivania Alvarez, a member of the organization. All those retained are considered members of the opposition, be it for their local leadership or because they openly identified themselves on social media as critics of the regime.

The current wave contrasts in some ways with the 2021 surge of repression. The earlier repressive assault ended with 61 people arrested – including seven presidential hopefuls and leaders from different facets of civil society. All of them were subsequently declared guilty in bogus trials and given sentences ranging from seven – thirteen years in jail.

Instead, the detentions registered in 2022 don’t appear to be focused on expanding the list of political prisoners, which currently totals 190, but “on spreading terror and expelling from Nicaragua those voices that perturb the regime,” Ivania Alvarez believes.

The police use several methods to capture the dissenters: they arrest them at home; they send them citations, ordering them to appear at the police station; and they use highway checkpoints, both internally and near the borders.

Once in police custody, they’re subjected to interrogations and locked in a cell. The police agents tell them: “[We know] you’re planning something against the government”; “We know you’re receiving money”; “We know you’re meeting on Zoom with people outside [the country].” Alvarez, who offered these details, added that many of the cases remain anonymous, for fear of reprisals.

Those detained are threatened with being sent to the infamous El Chipote jail, where some thirty political prisoners are currently being held incommunicado. They tell them they’ll be imprisoned for ten years and accused of spreading fake news or of treason to the homeland, the two crimes the regime most often uses as their political weapon for jailing opponents.

“I wouldn’t call it an interrogation session, rather three, four hours of harassment, threats and accusations,” commented Alvarez. She, herself, was forced into exile in Costa Rica due to the dictatorship’s persecution.

Gonzalo Carrion, a member of the Nicaragua Nunca Mas [“Nicaragua Never Again”] Human Rights Collective, noted that the regime has utilized this type of express detention since the 2018 civic rebellion. These quick detentions are intended to cause terror and are considered a “systematic pattern” and “a modality within the framework of a system of torture.”

Carrion added that during the past four years of sociopolitical crisis, the same questions have persisted in the interrogations: “Who’s paying you?” “Who’s organizing you?”, plus accusations of being: “a coup plotter”, “a terrorist” – all according the script the government has fabricated to delegitimize the 2018 civic protests.

Out of all the detentions, the only case that actually went to “trial” was that of Yubrank Suazo, an opposition leader and member of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy. Suazo was recently “tried” and sentenced to ten years in prison. In contrast, the arrest of the three musicians in April 2022, resulted in their being held in the El Chipote jail for ten days and then ordered to leave the country.

Between April 2018 and March 2020, the Ortega regime jailed at least 1,614 citizens for their participation in, or support of, the anti-government demonstrations, according to a report from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, a branch of the OAS. The Commission also documented the human rights violations, including mistreatment and cruel practices, overcrowding and sexual violence, that the prisoners of conscience suffered, and continue to suffer, in the prison system.

Both internal and external displacement

Alvarez clarified that there’s a persistent under-registry of the express detentions; due to fear, not all those detained for a short period denounce their experiences.

She believes that the regime continues using these short periods of detention because they want to push the leaders into emigrating. The people who were detained don’t wait for the police to come back and look for them again, because they have no certainty they’ll be left free. For that reason, most decide to move elsewhere in the national territory or to emigrate.

“We think that they [the regime] don’t want the list of political prisoners to grow, but instead to get rid of the local leaders, by sending them into exile,” Alvarez stated.

It’s clear to Gonzalo Carrion that the detentions seek “to put the brakes on the exercise of rights” and to assure that those who remain in the country, do so anonymously, as a consequence of their strategy of terror.

The aim is “to paralyze and demobilize you, in order to disorganize,” Carrion asserted. Urnas Abiertas reports that they’ve documented 385 incidents of political violence in Nicaragua during the first half of 2022.

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