Press Release

IACHR Speaks Out Against Ongoing Repression in Nicaragua and Expresses Its Concern at Increased Harassment of Human Rights Defenders and People Who Have Been Released from Prison

September 6, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has spoken out against ongoing repression in Nicaragua. It has also expressed its concern at the increased harassment of human rights defenders and the attorneys of people who have been released from prison or who are still under arrest in connection with the protests that began on April 18, 2018.

The IACHR continues to receive information on the ongoing repression in Nicaragua through its established statutory mechanisms. In this regard, on August 21, the IACHR’s Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (OSRESCER) spoke out against the pattern of discrimination and threats of reprisals by state authorities against state-employed workers who criticize the government. Likewise, on August 26, United Nations human rights experts and the IACHR’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression spoke out against the systematic repression of independent media outlets and journalists in the country.

Against the backdrop of the closure of civic and democratic spaces, the IACHR also received worrying information through the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) regarding the growing harassment of human rights defenders and other groups of lawyers in Nicaragua. On August 6, Leyla Prado, a lawyer who is part of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), spoke out against the death threats she had received through social media from government sympathizers. The threats and harassment allegedly escalated in response to her role as counsel for the defense of another CPDH lawyer, María Oviedo, who has been criminalized since July 26 and was found guilty in the first instance of the crime of “obstruction of operations” on August 29. On August 9, the IACHR was informed of police surveillance of the facilities of Acción Penal, a group of former prosecutors who now defend so-called political prisoners. On August 19, five women human rights defenders were detained for several hours when they attempted to put up protest banners in Managua. That same day, the lawyer Aura Alarcón from the Legal Defense Unit was allegedly assaulted and stripped of her belongings by “Sandinista mobs.” According to the information the IACHR received, even though police officers witnessed these events, they did not attempt to intervene. Furthermore, when she filed her report on the incident, Aura Alarcón claimed that the police had referred to her as a “pro-coup lawyer.”

In response, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, the IACHR rapporteur on human rights defenders, noted that “the adverse context in which human rights defenders and lawyers are going about their work is symptomatic of the ongoing crisis in the country, which is operating as a police state.”

In August, MESENI also received testimonies on the human rights situation of people who had been released from prison and the harassment, threats, and aggression they continue to experience. According to the testimonies it received, these people are being subject to permanent surveillance by police officers and citizens who continually interrogate them, their relatives, and neighbors, and remain in the vicinity of their homes until the early hours of the morning. Likewise, people who have been released from prison continue to receive threats and are the focus of stigmatization campaigns on social media that single them out as “coup plotters.” As a consequence, some of them have allegedly had to move repeatedly to safe houses or have decided to leave the country altogether. Furthermore, the IACHR notes the continuation and normalization of a pattern of short-term arbitrary arrest of these people. Some of these arrests have taken place at border crossings or at the airport after they took part in international events, according to the information the IACHR has received. The objective is to intimidate them for having led the protests that began on April 18, 2018. As of August 27, civil society organizations reported that at least 30 people who had been released from prison had been arrested once more as part of this pattern.

The IACHR once again notes that the legal status of many of those who have been released remains uncertain due to the lack of information on the situations. In some cases, the criminal cases against them remain open and their criminal records have not been expunged, or, when the Amnesty Law is applied, their cases are allegedly filed without first being dismissed. Among other consequences, this prevents the lifting of any precautionary measures in force and the return of any seized assets. On August 26, the IACHR was informed of irregularities in the computer system at the Managua Central Court Complex which are allegedly preventing lawyers from accessing information on the cases of so-called political prisoners. The IACHR also notes that independent media outlets have been barred from attending public hearings at the court complex for over a year.

Furthermore, according to the information available, as of August 8, 126 people were still being deprived of their freedom in connection with the protests. Among other cases, the IACHR has been informed of the prosecution of the student María Guadalupe Ruiz Briceño for ordinary criminal offenses. She was arrested on July 13, 2019, at Managua Cathedral while taking part in a protest.

In response, Commissioner Joel Hernandez, rapporteur on the rights of people deprived of their freedom, noted that “under the rule of law, the judicial system should function as the first line of defense for human rights. To this end, compliance with the guarantees of impartiality and independence established in international law is imperative.” He went on to say, “what we have been continuously documenting in Nicaragua are patterns of repression that originate in the very institutions that are responsible for dispensing justice.”

In the course of this repression against people who have been identified as government dissidents, the IACHR learned in August that the mayor of Mulukukú, Apolonio Fargas, had gone into exile in Costa Rica after both his home and the mayor’s office were allegedly occupied by police agents. Apolonio Fargas had previously been arrested for his involvement in the social protests before subsequently being released under the Amnesty Law. Furthermore, on August 23, the IACHR orders that precautionary measures be adopted to protect Violeta Mercedes Granera, a member of Unidad Azul y Blanco, who is currently at risk due to the situation in Nicaragua.

According to publicly available information, on August 27, in Wiwilí municipality, Jinotega department, Francisco Blandón Herrera was allegedly killed by shots fired by a civilian from a motorcycle. In response, human rights organizations have stated that this case is part of escalating violence outside of the capital against campesinos and people who have been identified as dissidents. The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to investigate the circumstances surrounding this and other acts of violence with due diligence in order to identify and sanction those responsible, combat impunity, and prevent similar events from occurring. Likewise, given the atmosphere of polarization, repression, and stigmatization that currently reigns in Nicaragua, the IACHR calls on the state to guarantee the integrity and security of campesinos and people who have been identified as dissidents or opponents of the government.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, rapporteur for Nicaragua, reiterated: “the IACHR once again calls on the state of Nicaragua to cease the current repression and, specifically, to implement an appropriate process of truth, justice, and reparation for victims of this repression, in accordance with international human rights standards.” The president of the IACHR, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, added that “moving beyond the current situation of impunity in Nicaragua and rebuilding trust in state institutions are two of the major challenges to re-establishing the rule of law.”

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 220/19