On October 15, the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) publicly denounced persistent human rights violations in Nicaragua and urged the government to release political prisoners, restore fundamental freedoms and respect the separation of powers and rule of law:
“The government's has refused to comply with the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and to fulfill its duties under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”
Four days later, Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, dismissed allegations that political prisoners made of being tortured, calling them “lies” and an attempt to taint the country’s image.
“There are always prisoners who make up that they're being tortured … they invent things simply to create a negative image on Nicaragua before international organizations run by the yanquis [referring to the United States], like the OAS,” Ortega said during a speech.
Based on multiple published reports, Ortega’s claim that torture accusations are invented is false.
Nicaragua under Ortega has faced extensive international scrutiny for violations of human rights. These include "targeting civil society, human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, community and religious leaders, journalists and other media workers, students, victims and their family members, and individuals expressing critical views of the Government,” according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC).
In April 2018, protests broke out in Nicaragua as fiscal reforms slashed social security. Protestors were met with a violent and lethal response from the government, fueling a civil uprising demanding Ortega’s resignation. More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have since fled the country.
Between the start of the protests and September 2019, 651 people died, nearly 5,000 were injured, 516 were kidnapped and 853 have gone missing, according to the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH). Twenty-two police officers died, as stated by the U.N.
According to Human Rights Watch, many of those detained during the protests were subjected to prosecution and torture, including electric shocks, asphyxiation and rape. Detainees were also reportedly denied care in public hospitals.
The organization interviewed 12 former detainees, 11 of whom described suffering one of more forms of abuse, and seven who said they witnessed 39 detainees suffering abuses. It also interviewed three doctors and a psychologist who treated some detainees. They reported that many “showed signs of physical harm consistent with physical abuse and torture similar to that described by the 12 detainees.”
This week, Monitoreo Azul y Blanco (Blue and White Monitoring), a group that since 2018 registers and consolidates complaints of human rights violations in Nicaragua, published a video by Expediente Publico (an investigative journalism magazine in Honduras and Nicaragua) with testimonies from former political prisoners about their experiences of ill treatments and torture while incarcerated.
The testimonies mentioned the details of the event that resulted in the death of Eddy Montes, a Nicaraguan-American and U.S. Navy veteran who was shot dead in La Modelo prison in May 2019 after “a serious disturbance” inside of the prison, according to Nicaragua's interior ministry.
The magazine also published an article on October 20 detailing testimonies of victims of abuse by the Nicaraguan police. They tell the story of J, an opposition protestor who between May 6 and May 13, 2019, was subjected to “constant questioning” and abuse by the police. Her complaint is one of dozens of cases.
Between April 2018 and June 2020, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Collective Never Again (Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca+) registered complaints of five rapes, eight sexual abuses, seven threats of rape to detainees or their family members and three witnesses of rape to one or more fellow inmates, the article reported.
On June 19, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a resolution to promote and protect human rights in Venezuela, and requesting the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to "enhance monitoring” and “continue to report on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua.”
Amid increased international pressure, Ortega’s government has released some political prisoners, including 91 people whose sentences were converted to house arrest in December 2019. But some 100 political prisoners (estimates vary slightly) remain in jails.
On September 30, more than 50 political prisoners went on a hunger strike as part of protests demanding their freedom. At least three of them sewed their mouths as part of protests and were then transferred to maximum security cells at the Jorge Navarro prison complex known as La Modelo. Amnesty International has described the complex as “one of the main destinations for those detained and punished for reporting human rights violations in the country.”
During his October 19 speech, Ortega said prison doors were open to those calling out the government, including relatives of prisoners, for them “to visit them when they say they’re being tortured, they are saying, they have sown their lips.”
But on the following day, representatives from the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), one of Nicaragua’s oldest rights groups, went to visit the prison and were not allowed in, as La Prensa reported.
Allan Gomez, a member of the Union of Political Prisoners (UPPN), told Nicaragua Investiga that the denial of abuses is nothing new, “but human rights violations are fully visible.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. imposed its latest round of sanctions on top Nicaraguan officials, including the attorney general. According to The Associated Press, about two dozen people close to Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have been sanctioned – including Murillo and three of the couple’s children – since late 2017.
The European Union also recently renewed sanctions on Nicaragua – introduced in October 2019 – for another year, citing the “deteriorating political and social situation in Nicaragua.”