Student Maria Ruiz Briceno spent almost six months in detention with common prisoners. The jailers demanded information on other university students.
By Yader Luna (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – “If you don’t tell us where the other fucking kids are… you’ll see what happens. We can also take your little brothers as prisoners and disappear them. It is better that you tell us who financed you and where those sons of bitches are,” was a phrase that Maria Ruiz Briceno, a 22-year-old university student, who remained imprisoned for almost six months by the Ortega dictatorship, heard dozens of times.
The threats began on July 13, 2019 when she was captured along with six other classmates, while participating in a sit-in in Managua’s Cathedral, to commemorate a year of the brutal attack of the dictatorship’s paramilitary and police forces against entrenched university students at the UNAN and in the “Divina Misericordia” parish.
“We were leaving the sit-in in a taxi. There were seven of us in the taxi and we saw how a (Toyota) Hilux was following us. We were all nervous, but even more the taxi-driver. Suddenly, he stopped, and several patrols surrounded us. They beat me, turned my arm behind my back. They began to strangle my classmates and they pointed a gun at me. They ask us who the leader was, who organized the sit-in,” she recalls.
Maria explains that the psychological tortures began right at the beginning. In the group of young people arrested there were two more women, minors. “I told them that I was the leader and to let the others go,” she assures.
She was transferred to the infamous “El Chipote” interrogation jail and sometime later to the “La Esperanza” prison. Every day the Police sat her down for interrogation. Some days she was asked about her university classmates with name and surname, at others for the leaders of the protests and, other times they would just sit her down to humiliate her and say: “look at you where you are, alone and nobody comes here for you.”
There were days they threatened to do something to her father, a man suffering from chronic kidney failure. “We know at what time his dialysis is done, the name of the doctor who treats him, and the time he returns home,” they said to her.
“That caused me terror. But I was trying to stay strong,” she remembers.
Without seeing her family
Maria spent the first three days in a cell in District One (police station). There they took dozens of photographs. During that time, she had no contact with her family who was looking for her in all police stations. “Until thirteen days later I could see my mother,” she says.
This young woman, a native of Belen, Rivas, was one of the students at the occupation of the UNAN-Managua. She was with other students locked up in their alma mater to demand a change within the student authorities of the Nicaragua National Student Union and demand the resignation of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
“Not seeing my family was the hardest thing all the time, because I was afraid that they will do something to them. Not for me, because I already knew of what this Government is capable of,” she explained.
During her confinement, which ended on December 30, 2019, when she was released along with 90 other political prisoners, she wrote several letters to her parents asking them forgiveness for the “bitter drink” that she was making them experience.”
“I want you to know that I did, at least, what you wanted. I studied as much as I could and I did my best so that one day you would feel proud of the good woman you raised (…) but due to the principles that you and God instilled in me I could not remain silent seeing everything that happened with the students,” she wrote on a sheet to her mother.
She apologized to Dulce Briceno, her mother, because for her fault she had to be absent from her work in a free trade zone, to travel from Rivas to the women’s prison La Esperanza.
“My parents didn’t know that I was protesting and when I spoke with them, I told them all the atrocities that this dictatorship was doing against university students and against the population. They refused to see it, until they could confirm it with what they did to me,” she says.
Other prisoners were incited to beat her
They wanted to force Maria to sign a document admitting her guilt. They accused her of aggravated robbery of a cell phone. “It is ironic because they accused me of stealing a cheaper cell phone than the one they took from me, and eventually stole,” she affirms.
Contrary to the situation of most women political prisoners, who had shared cells, Maria was alone in a gallery full of strangers. “When I arrived at the prison some women would tell me: ‘we don’t want political prisoners here.’ A woman pushed me in the arm that day and when I complained she screamed at me again that they did not want me there. Then, I replied: ‘tell your commander to come and take me out,’” she recalls.
But the abuse of common prisoners towards her was also incited by the police themselves. “They called the common prisoners, after all the daily interrogations they did to me, to tell them that I said things about them, so that they would hit me. Later they would come to complain to me and threaten me,” she says. However, she would plead to them: “I would never do that, I am a Christian and the only thing they call me for is to give information about the students,” she told them.
They denied that she was a political prisoner
This young woman, who studied banking and finance at the National Autonomy University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua) in the morning and electronic engineering at the National University of Engineering (UNI) at night, was for several months known as “the last woman political prisoner.”
She was the only woman imprisoned by the dictatorship after the release of most of the political prisoners under the controversial Amnesty Law promoted by the dictatorship.
“I had problems with officers, because they would tell me all the time: ‘there are no political prisoners here.” They never accepted that the dictatorship had me unjustly imprisoned for going out to demonstrate,” she told us.
Feeling alone, she began to protest from her cell and shouted: Freedom for political prisoners! Freedom for me! She would also write on her sheets with phrases allusive to the civic struggle.
“With a nail polish I wrote in white a small utensil in which I ate the phrase ‘no more dictatorship.” But immediately they took away all my things away. I told them: “It is absurd to take my things away only for expressing myself! She recalls.
She narrates that that’s why they warned her to forget about protesting and told her: “Now you are under our orders and besides you are a common prisoner, you are a common criminal,” they’d yell at her.
After her release Maria was not informed about her prison condition. She admits that she is still a victim of harassment but assures that she will remain firm in the struggle.
“I am always afraid because when I left, I didn’t sign any release document, I do not have a document that says that I am free. I don’t know if there will be a legal proceeding against me. My fear is that suddenly these people will blow their top and come to take me out of my house,” she insists.