HAVANA TIMES – There are currently over 160 political prisoners in Nicaragua. Thirty-six of them – opposition leaders, activists, journalists, businesspeople, and NGO workers – were abducted since the end of May and are mostly being held in Managua’s “New Chipote” jail.
For months, this latest wave of captives has been held incommunicado and in isolation, without being able to meet with their defense attorneys or family members. Likewise, their secret hearings, charges and trials took place at the jail itself. Hence, except for a few being held under house arrest, their whereabouts remained unclear for up to three months, with no proof they were even alive.
Finally, after much outcry, last week each prisoner was allowed a brief visit from one family member.
This week the relatives joined together in a pronouncement on the status of their loved ones. We reprint it in full.
Statement by relatives of the political prisoners illegally detained since May 2021
As family members of the political prisoners illegally arrested and detained since May 2021 and who were victims of forced disappearances up until August 30, we want to share with the people of Nicaragua and the international community that it was only last week that these prisoners were finally –and belatedly– conceded their right to be visited. From those visits, we were able to verify the following:
- The physical deterioration of each and every one of them, as evidenced by: extreme and accelerated weight loss (between 12 and 36 pounds); gastrointestinal problems due to poor diet which has led them to a state of severe malnutrition; extreme paleness, as many do not have any access to sunshine, and those who have been allowed outside, it has only been once a week for a very short time. Some suffer from pre-existing chronic diseases and could develop new health problems, putting their lives at risk.
- They suffer extreme cold due to the low temperatures of the cells. They are not allowed to have or receive bedding, blankets, or warm clothing.
- The lights in their cells remain on 24 hours a day, and they are subject to exhaustive interrogations in the absence of their lawyers at any time of day or night, two and up to three times a day. This keeps them in a constant state of alert, denying them their right to rest.
- Lack of regularity in the administration of medications. Those who suffer from chronic conditions are uncertain about the medications that they have been taking, as they are being given to them without names or labels, and there have even been cases where it was clear that overmedication was taking place. The detention center has requested new medications for prisoners who did not need medications prior to their illegal arrest. Medical evaluations that would allow the prisoners and their family members to know their actual health conditions have not been allowed.
- They are in cells that do not meet international standards for keeping people incarcerated for long periods. The cells are small, with concrete beds and very thin sleeping mats. Some have inadequate plumbing fixtures, such as holes in the floor instead of toilets.
- The prisoners do not have access to reading material or any other activity that would connect them with the world, allow them to occupy their minds, and remain lucid.
- Some of our imprisoned family members were kept in solitary confinement for two months, and only changed to shared cells days before the visits, where we assume they remain. It is of great concern that some are still being kept in extreme isolation. This situation is similar to that of 28 other political prisoners who are in isolated maximum-security cells in the national prison systems.
All these extreme conditions to which our unjustly imprisoned family members are being subjected constitute acts of torture. We are deeply concerned that these conditions may cause irreversible damage, both physically and psychologically. Despite this situation, each and every one of them showed themselves to be grounded and strong of spirit, with absolute certainty of their innocence, and with hopes of justice and speedy liberation from their imprisonment.
Initial hearings began last Thursday in the judicial processes against our imprisoned family members, all based on false arguments and lacking any actual evidence. In addition, the authorities changed the venue of the hearings at the last minute, from the courts where they are supposed to take place to the “Nuevo Chipote” jail where they are being held, in what are spurious processes without legal foundation. Family members were not allowed to attend the hearings even though our Constiution establishes that right.
In view of all of the above, we demand the following of the Nicaraguan government, the Judiciary and the “Nuevo Chipote” jail authorities:
- Immediate and unrestricted release of political prisoners illegally arrested and detained since May 2021, as well as freedom for the more than 130 people political prisoners from before then who also suffer many of these same violations of their human rights. All are innocent of all the charges attributed to them by the Prosecutor’s Office.
- The possibility of frequent periodic visits in conditions of privacy, without harassment to family members and lawyers, and including the possibility for young children to communicate with their imprisoned parents. During the first visit, we were each elaborately photographed and recorded, especially during the most intimate and emotional moments at the beginning and end of our visits; we all deserve privacy and respect.
- Allow families to provide at least one mealtime a day to our imprisoned family members in order to assure healthy and complete food in line with their particular health needs.
- An immediate end to solitary confinement and to interrogations without the presence of their lawyers.
- Permit our imprisoned family members to receive and use blankets, bedspreads, and warm clothes to combat the cold that they feel every night.
- Guarantees that the packages brought by the families are actually delivered so that they can have and self-manage their own food, beverages, clothing, and personal hygiene care items in their jail cells.
- Provide at least 20 minutes of sunshine a day to our imprisoned family members, and allow them to receive reading material.
- Hold public trials, with the possibility of family members and media being present.
We deeply appreciate all the expressions of support and solidarity that we have received at this time of such suffering and uncertainty.
We will continue with our collective demand for freedom and respect for the human rights of all our imprisoned family members, as well as for guarantees of due process.
Freedom for all political prisoners!
September 7, 2021