MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) – An international human rights organization is calling for increased pressure on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as arrests of political opposition figures continue ahead of the Nov. 7 elections.
Human Rights Watch was scheduled to release a report on Tuesday detailing the politically motivated arrests in recent weeks of nearly 20 opposition candidates, prominent businessmen, former government officials and political leaders. The Associated Press received a copy of the report in advance.
The organization asked the United Nations Security Council to invoke Article 99 of its charter “to raise this issue in the UN Security Council and present it as a growing crisis involving serious human rights abuses that could undermine stability in the region “.
Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term as president and has been systematically clearing his path of potential challengers through arrests for alleged crimes against the state. The government had already significantly reduced public space for the opposition to maneuver through repressive laws and intimidation.
“The high-profile arrests and other serious human rights violations against critics appear to be part of a broader strategy to eliminate political competition, stifle dissent, and pave the way for the reelection of President Daniel Ortega for a fourth consecutive term.” , Human Rights Watch said.
On Monday night, Nicaraguan police announced that they had placed former first lady María Fernanda Flores Lanzas, wife of former President Arnoldo Alemán, under house arrest for alleged crimes against the state.
Aleman and his whereabouts were not mentioned. The police statement said he would remain under surveillance while the allegations against him were investigated.
Also on Monday, journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, son of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, said via Twitter that police raided his home. He demanded that they respect the well-being of his sister-in-law and others with her.
“They will not be able to silence journalism,” he wrote. In May, the police raided the offices of his online media outlet Confidencial. The government seized the media’s former offices in December 2018.
Earlier, Nicaraguan writer and former vice president Sergio Ramírez said that there was no possibility of free and fair elections in Nicaragua and that the opposition should refuse to participate in votes that would only legitimize Ortega’s victory.
Last week, most of the members of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States condemned the actions of the Nicaraguan government and called for the immediate release of the political prisoners. On Monday, Argentina and Mexico, two countries that abstained from voting, called their Nicaraguan ambassadors to consult on developments.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Ortega’s daughter and a senior military official, as well as several others close to the president.
“The severity and intensification of the Ortega government’s brutal repression against critics and members of the opposition in recent weeks requires that international pressure be redoubled,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.
The report noted that more than 108,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country since the street protests began in April 2018 and were violently repressed by the government. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights determined that 328 people died and some 2,000 were injured. Ortega has maintained that those protests were an attempted coup d’état backed by foreigners.
Most of the arrests in recent weeks have been related to allegations that opposition figures accepted outside funding for anti-government activities.
Even before the latest crackdown, more than 100 political prisoners were already incarcerated in Nicaragua, according to the report. Among them, Human Rights Watch has documented three cases of women who suffered sexual assaults and assaults during their incarceration.
In preparing the report, Human Rights Watch interviewed 53 people in Nicaragua, including 46 activists, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition figures who were harassed by arbitrary detention. He said the government had not responded to his request for information on those cases.
Government targets frequently report police vehicles parked outside their homes preventing them from leaving.
“There is practically no possibility that Nicaraguans can exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, or to vote and run for public office, if they are seen as opposed to the ruling party,” Vivanco said. “Senior UN officials and UN member countries who care about human rights have the opportunity to prevent a regional crisis by pressuring Ortega to end his repression now. They should get hold of him. “