Nicaragua’s Police “Plant Evidence” on Dissidents

Sergio Beteta was taken into custody on December 21st for waving a Nicaraguan flag and shouting slogans on the street. Photo from “Article 66” video feed

Police officials showed Beteta the arms and drugs while he was in the infamous “El Chipote” interrogation jail. They told him mockingly: “These are yours now,” says his lawyer, Julio Montenegro.

By Ana Lucia Cruz (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Planted evidence, false testimony and distorted facts. These are only some of the irregularities observed in the trial against political prisoner Sergio Beteta. His lawyer, Julio Montenegro, offered a detailed description of the anomalies that took place during Beteta’s hearing. Nonetheless, on March 3rd, Sergio Beteta was declared guilty of drug trafficking and illegal arms carrying.

Beteta has been in prison since December 21, 2020. He was detained by police while protesting on Managua’s University Avenue. Beteta had set fire to the FSLN flag and was waving the blue-and-white flag of Nicaragua.

Julio Montenegro was interviewed on the internet news program Esta Noche, broadcast on YouTube. He reiterated his conviction that his client’s case is “political”. The crimes Beteta is accused of are the same ones habitually attributed to those opposing Daniel Ortega’s regime. By accusing dissenters of common crimes, the regime seeks to disguise their actual status as political prisoners.

Proof of Beteta’s real actions

Sergio Beteta’s defense attorney Julio Montenegro

Montenegro works with the organization “People’s Defenders”. He indicated that there’s “fundamental proof” that Sergio Beteta was arrested for protesting, not for the crimes he’s been tried for.

“There’s a live video feed recorded by journalist Noel Miranda from the digital news site Articulo 66. In this, you see him (Beteta) demanding freedom for the political prisoners and asking for the opposition political forces to unite. The police arrive immediately; four or five motorcycle patrols surround him, with two police on each motorcycle. Finally, a police pick-up arrives, they put him on it, and he’s arrested and taken away,” Montenegro explained.

The lawyer pointed out that his client’s backpack can be seen in the video. It clearly isn’t full at the moment of his arrest. Montenegro also emphasized that while apprehending and searching the young man none of the officials pulls out a gun from his waste. Had Beteta had a gun, they would surely have done so.

The lawyer complained that the police’s “remedy” for dissent is to transport the political prisoners to the infamous “El Chipote” interrogation jail. There, in a certain multi-purpose room, they assemble a “photo montage” illustrating “what the police supposedly found on them”.

Planted evidence

Sergio Beteta remains defiant demanding a Free Nicaragua.

Montenegro recapped Sergio Beteta’s version of the events. According to Beteta, his backpack was empty at the time of his arrest. However, when they brought him into the room at El Chipote, they brought in the backpack, now full of bulky packets.

Attorney Montenegro related: “He told me that the officials that were there smiled and took out his backpack. It was packed full with packages. He then began to shout that they weren’t his. They replied: “They’re yours now.”

The lawyer explained that the situation described is key. The report the police write out then forms the basis for putting together their Theory of Events. Elaborating the latter is the responsibility of the Interior Ministry. “In this case, the Theory of Events says that Beteta was carrying the drugs and the weapon in his backpack. That criteria carries weight with the judges. Our theory, as the defense, is that it’s not true. Instead, it’s a case of planted evidence.”

Montenegro spoke of the inconsistencies in the police “witness” accounts. They indicated that at the moment of the arrest, “’there was no blue-and-white flag, there was no flag being burned.’ [They said this], despite the video showing the opposite.”

Montenegro also mentioned that the accusers “misidentified” the site of the events, giving an incorrect address.

The attorney criticized the lack of logic in the case put forth by the DA’s Office and the police. “Someone demanding freedom for the political prisoners and opposition unity isn’t going to go around with six large packets of marijuana. Nor is he going to go around with a pistol in his waist, and stand there, waiting to be arrested.”

Despite all the irregularities that Montenegro exposed during Beteta’s trial, the political prisoner was found guilty. The District Attorney’s Office asked Judge Melvin Vargas of Managua’s Seventh District Criminal Court to open “discussion of the sentence”. The prosecution has asked “for fifteen years and a large fine for drug trafficking. In addition, they’re asking for another year and a smaller fine for carrying a weapon.”

Beteta’s defense declared that there shouldn’t be any discussion at all of the sentence because the protester is innocent. However, the lawyer asked for the minimum sentence.

Beteta maintains a defiant stance

Julio Montenegro reported that his client remained defiant all through the hearing. He dared to tell the judge that “he wasn’t performing his duties according to the law”. During the signing of the court record, Beteta took advantage to write his slogan of “Long live a free Nicaragua!”

The political prisoner also yelled, “Long live a Free Nicaragua!” while the Prosecutor was asking for the maximum sentence.

“I think that cry was heard through all the hallways. That was the way he took his leave of that courtroom,” Montenegro commented.

The defense lawyer affirmed they’d be appealing the verdict against Beteta. They planned to exhaust all possible avenues in the Appeals Tribunal, with a call for annulment.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.