IACHR Condemns Manipulation of Criminal Law and Lack of Guarantees in Trials of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua

February 11, 2022

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the serious violations of due process and the right to defense during the legal proceedings for political prisoners in Nicaragua. It also urged the State to immediately release all those who have been detained since April 18, 2018, when the human rights crisis in the country began.

On January 31, the Public Prosecutor's Office issued a press release ordering the resumption of the oral trials of the more than 30 political prisoners who remain at the facilities of the Department of Judicial Assistance ("El Chipote") and those who are under house arrest. These individuals have been accused of crimes that include "undermining the national integrity" and "receiving funds from foreign sources to commit the crimes of money and asset laundering." In the press release, the Public Prosecutor's Office described the individuals in question as "criminals and delinquents" and argued that they were responsible for "aggressive terrorist acts during the failed coup attempt of 2018."

In response to the resumption of these proceedings, which were arbitrarily suspended for more than three months, the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) received information on serious violations of criminal law and the lack of judicial guarantees. Specifically, the hearings are being held in private at El Chipote, and the independent media has been prohibited from attending them, which runs counter to national legislation.

Family members are denied entry to some of the trials, and defendants are brought to trial without prior notice. The defendants' legal representatives have spoken out against police harassment and the confiscation of belongings needed to participate in the hearings. They were also allegedly subjected to disproportionate searches that resulted in inappropriate touching of female lawyers and family members. The IACHR condemned these events, which constituted sexual violence, affected the individuals' dignity and personal integrity, and were used to intimidate and humiliate them.

The IACHR also received information on the manipulation of evidence to incriminate the defendants, as well as accusations based on the testimonies of public officials, social media posts, and their involvement in political leadership, social protest, or the defense of human rights. In all cases, the accused's legal representatives have reported the obstruction of access to their case files before the trial, an inability to contact them, and a refusal on the part of the judicial authority to process petitions and appeals.

The IACHR is particularly concerned by the fact that such processes continue, through the application of laws such as the Special Cybercrimes Act and Act 1055, which impede the exercise of public freedoms and thus run counter to Inter-American standards, and impose disproportionate penalties. The IACHR also voiced its concern over the deplorable conditions in which the accused are being detained and the serious decline in their health, especially in the case of older detainees, whose condition is reportedly critical.

This manipulation of criminal law and the criminalization of people who have been identified as dissidents in Nicaragua is the result of the lack of judicial independence and separation of the powers of the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Judiciary. These act on the government's instructions in a way that clearly undermines the rule of law and democracy, as noted in the report on the concentration of power and undermining of the rule of law in Nicaragua.

The IACHR expressed its solidarity with those who are being tried without judicial guarantees and their families. It once again urged the State to immediately release all political prisoners and those who have been detained in the context of the crisis that began in 2018.

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. 027/22

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