Permanent Commission for Human Rights denounces the criminalization of civic protest.
Illegally captured by paramilitaries, taken prisoner and put on trial with no legal guarantees, all for demonstrating against the dictatorship.
By Maynor Salazar (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Cristian Fajardo Caballero and Maria Peralta Cerrato, members of the April 19th Movement in Masaya, were arrested last July 23 at the Penas Blancas border post. Both were trying to reach Costa Rica, fleeing the regime of President Daniel Ortega. They are now accused of the crimes of terrorism, financing terrorism, organized crime and disrupting public services.
Fajardo and Peralta are two of the 132 political prisoners that according to the Permanent Commission for Human Rights (CPDH) have been railroaded into judicial proceedings for having participated in the protests against the Ortega-Murillo regime. The latest report of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights holds that regime responsible for the murder of 317 people.
In July, the FSLN delegation in the National Assembly approved two laws aimed at persecuting and criminalizing citizens, opposition leaders, business owners and non-profit organizations that support or donate to any civic campaign aimed at defending themselves from the authoritarian regime of Daniel Ortega.
The new legal text defines as “terrorism” anyone who kills or wounds people who are not participating in hostilities during an armed conflict, or who damages public or private property if they are doing so in order to intimidate the population, alter the constitutional order, or obligate a government or international organization to take or abstain from taking an action. These activities are sanctioned with 15-20 years in jail.
IACHR documents government persecution
Between July 19-30, the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), set up by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR), confirmed the criminalization and legal persecution in Nicaragua. It has received information on the growing practices of legal persecution and criminalization against people who oppose the government regime.
“We’ve become aware, with great concern, of the dizzying increase in the number of people detained without guarantee of due process. We issue an urgent call to the state to assure the strict fulfillment of the law. The state should immediately free all those who have been arbitrarily detained using unfounded charges,” declared Joel Hernandez, the IACHR’s Rapporteur for People Deprived of their Liberty.
Another of the cases where the right to protest has been criminalized is that of the dentist Irlanda Jerez Barrera, leader of the self-organized vendors in Managua’s Eastern Market. Jerez was kidnapped by hooded figures near the Cristo Rey roundabout after leaving an activity in which different social movements participated to plan protest actions against the regime.
A press note published on the website of the government’s Judicial Branch states that Jerez Barrera was captured and remanded to the El Modelo prison “for having been found guilty of fraud and larceny.” Her daughter, Sterina Jerez, disputes that sentence, since it’s “from a verdict years ago that was appealed to the Supreme Court, which then ruled in her favor.”
Francisco Eguiguren, IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, feels that the wrongful use of criminal law is extremely concerning, especially the recently approved law against terrorism, with the objective of criminalizing the exercise of the right to social protest and the defense of human rights.
“We call on the state to put a stop to the criminalization of those who participate peacefully in demonstrations and to abstain from employing the inadequate, broad and vague term of terrorism to respond to the protests and social demands,” he declared.
Accused of terrorism
Marcos Carmona, director of the Permanent Commission for Huan Rights (CPDH), affirmed that the Ortega-Murillo regime are accusing the detainees of a series of crimes, including terrorism, organized crime, illegal possession of weapons, or murder. These charges have been leveled against Brandon Lovo and Glenn Slate, for example, supposedly responsible for the death of journalist Angel Gahona who directed the local newscast El Meridiano; and against Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, farm leaders accused of the death of four police officials in Morrito, part of the department of Rio San Juan.
“This gets our attention, because it was said that this was the safest country in Central America. If so, then where did so many young people come from who supposedly had ties to terrorism? This is a maneuver to intimidate the youth who are in hiding or are leaving the country,” Carmona insisted.
Denis Darce, a lawyer with the CPDH, affirmed that this human rights organization is assuming the technical defense of the 132 citizens, through a specialized legal team. The advocate stated that these people have been detained illegally. Further, even though they have a lawyer, at the preliminary hearings they haven’t been allowed to speak with their families or the lawyer in charge of their case.
The majority of the people who are being tried have been presented outside the constitutionally established time frame of 48 hours. The case of Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, leaders of the farmers’ movement who were detained at the Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport, is a clear example of the state’s violation of rights. They were sent to their preliminary hearing 96 hours after the stipulated period.
The CPDH lawyers have identified a collusion between the National Police, the Prosecution and the court apparatus. There are also others involved in this, such as the paramilitaries and the authorities of the El Modelo prison.
Julio Montenegro, CPDH advocate, described the way in which each institution works. He explained that the first link in the chain are the paramilitaries, who take on the capture of citizens who have participated in the protests against the Ortega Murillo regime.
Later, “the National Police, with their investigations, the prosecutor, at the moment of carrying out penal actions, and the judges. “They name judges who have been trained for this process; that is, the ones who are going to rule the way they want,” explained Montenegro. He further assured that he had information that the Prosecution had pre-prepared accusations all ready to be used.
The National Penitentiary System functions like a torture center. According to the information that the CPDH has in its power, in this site the prisoners have their hands and feet chained, their heads shaven and they’re beaten. This form of torture has been applied to Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, stated the CPDH activists.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights expressed in its last communique that it had received abundant information about the existing obstacles to mounting an adequate legal defense, consisting of barring lawyers and civil society organizations from access to hearings, and the refusal to provide data regarding the legal situation and state of health of those detained.
“With respect to this, we reiterate to the state the recommendation that they elaborate and make known a public registry containing the following information: number of people that have been detained since the beginning of the protests on April 18; the causes of their detentions; the duration of their privation from liberty; place of detention; number of people who are currently in detention due to the protests that have taken place since April 18; and the number of people who are in jail,” states part of the report.
Journalism also criminalized
Roberto Collado Urbina, reporter for the news program Accion 10 based in Granada, was beaten and kidnapped by paramilitary groups in the area around the Petronic gas station of that city while he covered a march in support of the bishops from the Episcopal Conference.
The attack this correspondent received is another proof of the criminalization imposed by President Ortega against the right to inform that the journalists exercise in the country. Mauricio Madrigal, head of information for this newscast, also denounced the persecution unleashed against Paco Espinoza who was covering the socio-political crisis in the north of Nicaragua.
Collado, who was freed five hours later, had sizable lesions on his head and on the rest of his body. Regarding Paco Espinoza, it’s known that he’s in a secure place, fleeing the pressures of the National Police.
In its report, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights expressed that given the importance of the journalists’ work, the state should award them the highest-level guarantees so they can realize their function.
The government’s campaign of criminalization has extended even to doctors and other medical personnel in the country’s hospitals. On July 27, at least 35 people were unjustifiably fired from the Hospital Oscar Danilo Rosales in the city of Leon. The dismissals were in reprisal for having attended to or expressed support for those wounded during the protests.
On July 28, another 40 people lost their jobs in the Santiago Regional Hospital in the city of Jinotepe, for supposedly participating in the occupation of the hospital. And in Masaya, at least 15 workers, including doctors, stretcher bearers and nurses, were fired.
“No type of intimidation or direct or indirect punishments such as sanctions or loss of employment are permissible for the act of having complied with their professional functions of preserving the right to health,” pointed out Soledad Garcia Munoz, Special Rapporteur with the IACHR.