February 14th, 2019. Around 68 female political prisoners of the Government of Nicaragua are facing different forms of violence, including violation of guarantees of due process, cruel and inhuman treatment, discrimination, sexual violence, lack of medical attention, threats, and harassment. This situation was denounced yesterday by representatives of civil society during the private hearing “Human Rights Situation of Women Deprived of Liberty in Nicaragua,” held in Bolivia during the 171st session of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR).
Among the speakers during the private audience were representatives of the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), the Center for Health Information and Advisory Services (CISAS, for its initials in Spanish) and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH, for its initials in Spanish). The latter two organizations had their legal status arbitrarily invalidated by the Nicaraguan Assembly, which has left the victims of the repression that these organizations attended defenselessness.
Due to a lack of information from authorities, there are no official figures on the numbers of female political prisoners in Nicaragua. However, data collected by the Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IN-Defensoras) and the Registration Commission of the Blue and White National Unity (UNAB, for its initials in Spanish), suggest that 102 women have been arbitrarily arrested by police and paramilitaries since the protests against the government began 10 months ago. From that total, there is information that 68 woman are still detained. Of those, 40 are being prosecuted and 17 have already been convicted with sentences ranging from 6 months to 40 years of prison.
Additionally, 26 women are detained in the La Esperanza women’s prison, three are under house arrest and the rest are detained in the Judicial Assistance Department (DAJ, for its initials in Spanish), better known as ‘El Chipote,’ or in departmental police delegations.
Inhuman and degrading treatment
“La Esperanza penitentiary has been a cell of isolation and punishment. The blackmail, verbal abuse, and even physical abuse in some cases have been recurrent by the prison authorities,” the mother of one of the political prisoners said during the audience. She added that “inside (the prison) they are totally isolated from the rest of female inmates and they are treated as if they have a disease.”
Ana Quirós, director of CISAS, also pointed out that the 26 female political prisoners detained in La Esperanza are jammed into two cells that were originally designed for 8 prisoners each, which have a single bathroom.
According to Quirós, all the female political prisoners “live with permanent anxiety, facing threats and receiving constant visits by armed men with dogs” as a means of intimidation. In addition, many times they are taken out of the penitentiary without being informed where they are being taken, “so they live with the fear of being disappeared.”
Another manifestation of repression committed by the authorities and mainly directed towards women is sexual violence. Quirós explained that the female political prisoners have been forced to strip naked and perform squats in front of their male captors, have been victims of inappropriate and obscene contact, have received threats of rape, and have been raped with penetration. All of the above situations have been used as a method of torture to obtain information or to force the woman to film incriminating videos against opposition leaders.
Restrictions on health
The prison authorities have also denied medical care and access to medical treatment to inmates with health issues such as depression and anxiety, infections due to overcrowding and poor hygiene conditions, migraines, gastritis and hypertension.
“There are some woman with more serious problems and whose treatment is urgent, such as Ruth Matute, who has a congenital heart disease; Brenda Muñoz, who suffers from hepatic and renal polycystic disease; and Delmis Portocarrero, who has lupus erythematosus and hypertension,” Quirós told the representatives of the IACHR.
She also mentioned other cases such as that of Mercedes Chavarría, who has paralysis of half of her body; Ana Hooker, who has only one kidney and as a result suffers from hypertension, fluid retention and hypothermia; and the case of Irlanda Jerez, who suffers from heart problems and had a mitral valvuloplasty.
Discrimination against LGBTI people
A representative of a Nicaraguan organization that promotes the rights of the LGBTI population denounced that as of today, there are three transgender women who are detained in male prisons, including the students Victoria Obando and Kysha López.
“These women have been denied their right to gender identity, relegating them to prisons for men where they suffer discrimination, harassment, violence, and torture; and where they’re forced to undress in front of hundreds of men in the prison. They are shouted by the officials of the penitentiary system that ‘there are only virile man’ in there,” the activist exposed.
Violations of due process
Ana Bolaños, a lawyer at Race and Equality, pointed out the violations of the due process rights of the political prisoners in Nicaragua.
Women “have been arrested without arrest warrants, without charges by the Public Prosecutor’s Office or any lawsuits against them,” said Bolaños, adding that after their arrest, the prisoners are illegally remitted in their capacity as detainees to the cells of ‘El Chipote in Managua, where they have been subjected to extensive and repeated interrogations and different forms of violence.
“These actions have demonstrated the coordinated work among the organs that form the Criminal Justice System of Nicaragua, particularly the National Police, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary,” she stated.
More than 700 political prisoners
In addition to the 68 women deprived of liberty, the Registration Commission of the UNAB and the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners count 700 men who have been imprisoned in the context of the current crisis of human rights in that Central American country.
Since April 2018, Nicaragua has been submerged in a serious human rights crisis that has continued to intensified. During the last two months, the government has been silencing dissenting voices and the violence is more selectively manifested towards human rights defenders, women, journalists, independent media, LGBTI persons, and civil society organizations.