Nicaragua’s Political Trials are “Null & Void”, Judges Violating the Law

By Ivan Olivares (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The accusation and imprisonment of the latest wave of political prisoners have been ridden with enormous numbers of irregularities. Not only do these many violations render the trials null and void, but they also form the basis of future criminal charges against the officiating judges, who are violating the Nicaraguan constitution and laws.

That’s the verdict of two attorneys interviewed on Sunday August 29 on the online television news program Esta Semana. The program itself has been transmitted only via the internet, due to government censorship under Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

At the end of May 2021, the regime imprisoned Walter Gomez and Marcos Fletes, two former employees of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. This was the first arrest in a witch hunt that continues today: with arrests and abductions of opposition leaders; presidential candidates; journalists; former diplomats; association, civil, and student leaders; and even a banker. The regime is accusing all these dissenters of a series of crimes that the national and international community have from the beginning deemed prefabricated.

In the interview with Esta Semana, former justice system official Yader Morazan, who specializes in Court Administration, and former prosecutor Boanerges Fornos, detailed the legal criteria for declaring the annulment of all the court decisions. They also specified why the judges’ decisions to go forward with the trials of these political prisoners makes them complicit with the dictatorship in committing criminal offenses.

“If the [elements of proof] were obtained in ways that violate the constitutional guarantees, this evidence can’t form the basis of valid decisions. Apart from that, they can also provoke sweeping annulments within the legal process,” Morazan explained.

For his part, Fornos referred to the secrecy with which the hearings have been held, noting that “the judges didn’t issue any previous legal justification for holding these hearings secretly. Here, too, the important thing is that these hearings are null and void, because they weren’t held with the defense lawyers present.”

Flaws that nullify

What happened in the courts is one more confirmation of the radicalization process that the judicial power has undergone since 2018, noted Morazan. “Whereas before, the judges would wait for an important phone call before they’d commit anomalies in a trial. Today, it’s the opposite – what the judges are doing to any opposition figure is totally visible,” in order to ingratiate themselves with the regime.

“The behavior of these judges is clear. They’re committing crimes ofbreach of public duties for dictating decisions contrary to the Nicaraguan Constitution and the laws. They’re also guilty of denigration of justice, for refusing to resolve the situation. There are also malicious delays. The judges are engaging in criminal conduct in the exercise of their functions,” Morazan concluded. Moreover, they’re doing so at a moment when they should be sanctioning criminal behavior.

Morazan recalled the behavior that was observed in 2018 and later in 2020. At that time, defendants were accused of drug or arms possession, “but today’s patterns weren’t observed. The attorneys had access to the case files.”  As the elections approached, “judges who didn’t have the authority to inhibit people from opting for public office, are doing so at any cost, regardless of what the law itself states. We’re in the presence of a radicalization of the justice system, which is being wielded as a repressive organ,” he specified.

Based on his former experience within the system, Fornos assured: “all of these legal procedures are null and void. When the justice system begins to function effectively, the nullity of all these processes will be declared. Being annulled means that the people who’ve participated are civilly and criminally responsible. It’s important to point this out.”

“If we [Nicaragua] were under the Rule of Law, many of these authorities would have been detained for committing a great number of crimes against the accused, and against the administration of justice. However, we’ve seen that judges who haven’t wanted to lend themselves to this game of committing criminal offenses (…) are being fired. Tomorrow, when we’re once more under the Rule of Law, these people will have to respond,” Morazan predicted.

Where are the abducted prisoners?

Attorney Fornos coincided with the opinion expressed by human rights advocates and even Amnesty International. These argue that the latest prisoners are in a state of abduction and forced disappearance, even though official statements from the National Police and Public Prosecution assert they’re in the cells of Managua’s El Chipote jail.

“The Nicaraguan government – be it the National Police or the Penitentiary System – has an obligation to show these prisoners. Up to the moment, it’s only stated on paper that they’re detained, that they’ve been accused, that a hearing was held. The physical and psychological condition of these persons remains unknown, and if they’re really where they [the government] says they are. Under this premise, these imprisonments can be classified as forced disappearance, definitively so,” Fornos accused.

Morazan cited Nicaragua’s Criminal Processing Code, recalling that the defense lawyers must be present at these hearings. In addition, on March 4, 2021, the Supreme Court in Nicaragua issued a memo where the judges were instructed to permit the attorneys’ participation.

“This same memo says that in order to impose the 90-day period of detention for investigation, there must be imminent danger of evading justice, or that the person represents a danger in terms of interfering with the judicial system; or of continuing to commit crimes. None of this has been seen. That’s why we can categorically affirm that the regime isn’t even obeying its own laws, even the new repressive ones,” he declared.

Attorney Morazan spoke of the fact that in both types of accusations – that of “money laundering,” and of violating the “Sovereignty Law”, “up until now, we don’t know what evidence the Prosecution has presented.”

What’s known is that the original charges against Cristiana Chamorro have been broadened to include more people and additional crimes of money laundering, mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, improper withholding and ideological falsification. However, “the accusations must establish the facts that underlie the accusations, and the supposed evidence that exists,” he stressed.

It’s also unknown what evidence the Prosecution could have against those being accused of violating Law #1055, for conspiring to undermine the national integrity.

In both cases, the attorney notes that the evidence might be: “some witness testimonies, perhaps a photograph, a video or public declaration made by the accused. (…) probably some financial information they’ve obtained through requests made to the banks, (…) but up until now we don’t know anything.”

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.