Press Release

IACHR Condemns Continuing Acts of Repression in Nicaragua during Negotiating Table Talks

April 5, 2019

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Washington, DC—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses great concern over the ongoing acts of repression that have taken place in Nicaragua during the Negotiating Table for Understanding and Peace. These talks between the government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy began on February 27, 2019. The acts of repression in question include illegal arbitrary arrests, the prohibition of all forms of social demonstration of protest, the refusal to re-establish the legal status of civil society organizations, and the increasing repression of people who are being deprived of their liberty. The IACHR once more calls for repression in the country to cease and for public liberties to be restored.

The IACHR acknowledges the agreements reached on March of 20 and 27, 2019, as part of this dialogue. It also welcomes the state’s commitment to release people who were deprived of their liberty during the protests and urges that this be implemented promptly. It further welcomes the support that the International Committee of the Red Cross has provided throughout this process. The IACHR notes the importance of establishing a complete list of such prisoners that has been compared, confirmed, and agreed upon by both parties. To this end, the IACHR submitted a list of people who remain deprived of their liberty in connection with the protests to the OAS General Secretariat on March 18, 2019. The IACHR has been updating this record continually through a collaborative work plan with human rights organizations, human rights defenders, and legal representatives of people who have been detained and prosecuted in Nicaragua.

Arbitrary Arrests and the Prevention of Social Protest

Despite the start of the Negotiating Table between the government and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, the IACHR has been informed by the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) that demonstrators and dissidents continue to be arrested in an arbitrary, illegal fashion Between February and March, at least 60 people were allegedly arrested and transferred to Legal Police Department facilities and police stations in the rest of the country.

On March 23, 2019, the police issued another public statement (link in Spanish) on restrictions to social protests, in which it prohibited all forms of protest, stating that “the National Police Force will not permit any activity that disrupts the public order, threatens or impedes people’s constitutional right to work, freedom of movement, and the physical integrity of people, families, and public and private property.” The IACHR was also informed that it is been well documented that the police force has a continual, disproportionate presence in all public spaces in which social protest might take place. The aim of this is to prevent them from happening and to create an intimidating, hostile environment for demonstrations.

In recent weeks, another approach to preventing social protest that the IACHR has noted has been the arrest and release of people taking part in demonstrations or so-called express sit-ins. On March 16, 2019, the IACHR also learned that the protest march for the liberation of all people who have been arrested during the demonstrations in Nicaragua, which was organized by the Blue and White National Unity group, was prevented by the police force, who arrested demonstrators on their way to the march. According to information from the national police force, 107 people were arrested and released, while NGOs reported that around 195 people were arrested and released.

According to public information, another 12 people were reportedly arrested and then released during the protests that took place in Managua, Estelí, and León on March 30. The state reported that one person had been injured in Managua following violent actions by demonstrators in a shopping mall. According to civil society organizations, this person was later identified as a pro-government activist and was overpowered by demonstrators after attacking them with a firearm and injuring three people.

In relation to this event, the IACHR notes with concern that police officers attacked television and newspaper reporters who were covering the march, including by arresting them, subjecting them to physical aggression, and confiscating or destroying their equipment. The IACHR received specific information on the arrest of journalist Marlen Chow, according to which agents from the Special Operations Department (DOE) or antiriot squad attacked journalists and demonstrators inside the FISE Bank parking lot in south Managua, where they had taken refuge from the threatening police presence in the area. Reporter Cinthya Torres from La Prensa newspaper was physically and verbally attacked by agents who tried to snatch and destroy her phone while she was broadcasting live via social media. Canal 12 cameraman Luis Alemán and his colleague Marcos Medina were also attacked by a group of uniformed officers. The IACHR also learned that AFP photojournalist Luis Sequeira was allegedly beaten by antiriot squad officers who confiscated his camera, threw it to the ground, and destroyed it while he was filming one of the arrests.

The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to guarantee the right to protest and public demonstration. The IACHR has maintained on numerous occasions that social protest is a fundamental tool for the defense of human rights and is essential for an essential part of political and social criticism of government activities. The IACHR recalls that in a democracy, states must presume public protests or demonstrations to be lawful and must act on the assumption that they are not a threat to public order.

It also wishes to remind Nicaragua that it has a duty to guarantee that journalists and media workers who are covering demonstrations are not arrested, threatened, attacked, or in any way prevented from exercising their profession. Their equipment and materials must not be destroyed or confiscated by public authorities. Protecting the right to freedom of expression implies that authorities must ensure that journalists are able to cover events of public interest like social protests.

The Predicament of Prisoners Who Were Released during the Negotiating Table

The IACHR notes that 154 people who were arrested during protests were released between February 27 and March 18, 2019, according to government announcements on February 27 and March 15. However, the IACHR is concerned that according to the information it has received, those who have been released do not yet have precise information on their legal status. The state has made a blanket statement that these releases constitute a special privilege known as “family cohabitation” or the modification of an injunction or legal decision into something other than the deprivation of liberty. In connection with these processes, MESENI has documented a series of violations of the judicial guarantees that are set out in the American Convention on Human Rights, such the right to adequate representation and to effective legal remedies MESENI has also received several reports of harassment and the temporary recapturing of people who had been released, as was the case following the arbitrary temporary detentions of Alex Vanegas on February 28 and Bryan Alemán on March 19. According to information in the public domain and testimonies that MESENI has obtained, the purpose of such arrests is to deter people from taking part in public demonstrations.

The IACHR wishes to draw attention to the fact that people who are released from police custody need to have precise information on their legal circumstances and guarantees for their safety through the cessation of all persecution, harassment, and/or attacks on their integrity. Likewise, it urges Nicaragua to release all people who have been illegally and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and emphasizes the importance of their being treated with dignity until they are released, especially those who are being held in maximum security cells.

Refusal to Reestablish the Legal Status of Several Organizations

Given the ongoing dialogue, the IACHR regrets that the legal status of civil society organizations has yet to be reestablished. The IACHR is concerned about the information it received regarding the arrest of three members of the Nicaraguan Federation of NGOs Working with Children and Adolescents (CODENI) on March 20, 2019. They were allegedly interrogated at the Juigalpa Police Station in Chontales Department for around two hours, with no legal grounds for this.

The IACHR wishes to reassert that the right to freedom of association is characterized by enabling people to create or take part in organizations to act collectively in pursuit of a range of purposes, provided that these are legitimate. Furthermore, the IACHR notes that restrictions to the exercise of the right to freedom of association must be set out in the law, must pursue a legitimate purpose, and must ultimately be necessary and proportionate in the context of a democratic society.

The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to overturn the cancellation of the legal status of the organizations in question, to return their property and facilities, and to cease all harassment, threats, intimidation, and other forms of persecution of these and other civil society organizations such that they are able to exercise the right to freedom of association such that they may freely share ideas and information and defend human rights, as befits a democratic society.

Acts of Aggression toward People Who Are Deprived of Their Liberty

The IACHR learned of attacks of this sort on March 5, 8, and 9 in the maximum-security facilities at La Modelo, a men’s prison, in which all detained demonstrators’ cells were raided by government agents. As a result of these operations, Francisco Sequeira, Chester Membreño, Jeffrey Isaac Jarquín, Fredrych Castillo, Ricardo Baltodano, and Yubrank Suazo were allegedly injured and transferred to the punishment cells known as “el infiernillo,” or “the tiny hell.”

The IACHR wishes to remind the state that searchers must be carried out in accordance with the protocols and procedures clearly established by law and in a way that ensures that the fundamental human rights of people who have been deprived of their liberty are respected. It may otherwise become a mechanism that is used to arbitrarily punish and attack prisoners.

The Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty and for the Prevention and Combating of Torture, Commissioner Joel Hernández, stated that “any show of violence on the part of the authorities when people who are deprived of their liberty are defenseless could, depending on the situation, be characterized as torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”
The president of the IACHR, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, expressed: “we urge the state of Nicaragua to cease the acts of repression described in this press release, which have continued uninterrupted since April 2018 and shed doubt on the state’s will to move toward guaranteeing truth, justice, reparation, and the guarantees of nonrepetition which all members of Nicaraguan society have a right to, especially the victims in question.”

Likewise, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, the rapporteur for Nicaragua stated that “we wish to once more emphasize the importance of respecting and guaranteeing the human rights and release of people who have been deprived of their liberty illegally and arbitrarily.”

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. 090/19