91 political prisoners released but HRDs and journalists face continuous hostility and threats
Threats against defenders and civil society organisations
On 16th December 2019, human rights defender Juan Chamorro said that he has received several death threats from President Daniel Ortega supporters. Chamorro is the director of opposition coalition Alianza Cívica. He claimed that his phone number was distributed to networks of government supporters after he confronted a man who allegedly attacked a protester demanding justice for political prisoners. Videos of the confrontation were posted on social media and government supporters claimed that Chamorro humiliated a worker during the incident. Chamorro stated that he intervened after the man hit a protester with a tube. “I hold the dictatorship responsible for whatever happens to me. I have not done anything wrong, I only defended a woman from a savage and cowardly attacker who should be in jail for using violence against a woman,” he said to newspaper La Prensa.
On 31st December 2019, a community house belonging to feminist organisation Asociación de Mujeres Estelí Xilonem was vandalised by people allegedly associated with government party Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN). The walls of the house were graffitied with insults such as “fuera golpistas” (“scammers out”). These threats appeared to be directed at Susy Martínez, a member of the association, whose name was also grafittied. According to regional human rights network IM-Defensoras, several women from the same association have received threats since 2018 but had been afraid to report them. On 17th January 2020, a local blog reported that the structure of a house belonging to the same organisation, which had been under construction, had been damaged overnight.
91 political prisoners released but continue to face hostility
91 political prisoners were released from prison on 30th December 2019. According to AFP, Nicaragua’s Interior Ministry stated that the "opponents" had been released under a "special family coexistence programme". Among those released were 16 young people who had been arrested for delivering water to strikers at San Miguel Arcángel Church in November 2019. They had been granted precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on 24th December 2019. Human rights organisation Cenidh published a list of 65 political prisoners who remain in detention.
Human rights defender Amaya Eva Coppens, a leader of student movement Movimiento Estudiantil 19 de Abril, was among those released at the end of December 2019. While detained, Coppens and her family denounced the ill-treatment of prisoners by the Nicaraguan security forces. As reported by Frontline Defenders, Amaya suffered asthma attacks due to the poor prison conditions and had limited access to water for two days. As a result, she had to be taken to hospital twice. She was also allegedly denied blood pressure medication and medical attention for three days, which resulted in blood pressure problems. Coppens’ family has faced hostility from government supporters and her brothers were beaten on 24th December 2019 after pasting stickers from the campaign “Christmas without political prisoners” in Chinandega. Soon after Coppens’ release, on 31st December 2019 and 1st January 2020, her house was attacked and vandalized by an unidentified group on motorcycles.
Attempted kidnapping of defender’s family members
📢⚠️🆘#WHRDAlert NICARAGUA / Paramilitary forces besiege home of defender Reyna Rodríguez and make attempt on lives of son and nephew— IM-Defensoras (@IM_Defensoras) January 10, 2020
➡️https://t.co/lRlPECb6Bu@ForstMichel @ProtectHRD_EU @cvoule @UNHumanRights #SOSNicaragua pic.twitter.com/CC1TR4bW5Q
On 5th January 2020, members of a paramilitary group in Ciudad Sandino, Managua, attempted to kidnap human rights defender Reyna Isabel Rodríguez Palacios’ son and one of her nephews. Álvaro Antonio Báez Rodríguez and Andison Francisco Chávez Rodríguez ran to escape, but the armed assailants chased them and fired at them several times. One of the men was wounded on his left heel, while a bullet scraped the other’s scalp. As reported by IM-Defensoras, Reyna Isabel’s house has been besieged by police and paramilitary forces since the end of November 2019. At the beginning of January, attacks escalated against the defender in retaliation for her election to the Political Council of opposition group Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco. Rodríguez Palacios has had precautionary measures granted by the IACHR since 17th September 2018.
Dissident’s house besieged
On 11th January 2020, a group of armed civilians in León surrounded the house of Bayron Corea Estrada, a former political prisoner who has been granted precautionary measures by the IACHR. According to Estrada, the attackers were part of a pro-government paramilitary group. Armed with machetes and pipes, they insulted and threatened Estrada and his family. He and his family have been under constant harassment for his opposition to the Ortega government, Estrada stated to newspaper La Prensa.
On 16th December 2019, speaking at a police academy’s graduation ceremony, President Daniel Ortega warned that his government will not allow another wave of protests in Nicaragua, referring to the widespread demonstrations that began in April 2018 and triggered a socio-political crisis. In his speech, Ortega claimed that opposition movements intended to convene an indefinite strike and said that the government has the legal instruments to “defend peace and stability”.
On 19th January 2019, Nicaraguan human rights organisation Cenidh reported that the police prevented a protest by families of political prisoners at the Holiday Inn hotel.
On 12th December 2019, police officers reportedly advanced on protesters who were demonstrating in front of the Intercontinental Hotel in Managua. During the incident, three officers cornered and attacked Canal 12 journalist Kastalia Zapata, pulling her hair and stealing her mobile phone. Cameraman Luis Alemán, who works with Zapata, stated that officers attempted to take his camera and broke the camera’s screen. Newspaper La Prensa reported that their photojournalist Oscar Navarrete was also pushed by police officers, which led to him falling and breaking his camera lens. Boletin Ecológico’s journalist David Quintana was also attacked during the incident.
120 attacks against journalists were documented in Nicaragua between October and 15th December 2019, according to a report by the organisation Periodistas y Comunicadores Independientes de Nicaragua (Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua - PCIN). The report details violations that include threats, obstruction of journalistic work, harassment and assaults perpetrated by paramilitary forces, public officials, parapolice agents, ruling party supporters and national police officials. The majority of cases took place in the Managua, Masaya and Matagalpa departments. 39 percent of these attacks were directed against women journalists, with cases of blackmail, threats of rape, sexual assault and cyber-harassment.