Washington D.C., July 20th. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released two opinions today, one regarding the detention of 16 Nicaraguan activists in November 2019 after they brought water and medicine to a group of mothers of political prisoners who were on hunger strike, and the other regarding the arrest of journalists Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda in December 2018. In both cases, the opinions conclude that the arrests were arbitrary and consider that the proper remedy from the Government would include ensuring them “full freedom and granting them the effective right to obtain compensation and other types of reparation.”
Case of 16 activists
The opinion on the case of the 16 activists, approved on May 1, 2020, was requested by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the Legal Defense Unit (UDJ) and the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) in December 2019. Although the Working Group requested the Government of Nicaragua to respond to the complaint by providing information on the matter, it did not respond to the communication.
According to the Working Group, the deprivation of liberty of Amaya Coppens, Atahualpa Quintero, Derlis Hernández, Hansel Quintero, Ivannia Álvarez, Jesús Tefel, Jordán Lanzas, José Medina, María Hurtado, Marvin López, Melvin Peralta, Neyma Hernández, Olga Valle, Roberto Buchting, Wendy Juárez and Wilfredo Brenes was arbitrary according to categories I, II and III of the Group’s working methods.
Firstly, there was no legal basis to justify the detention: at the time of the arrest, the police did not report the reasons for detention or show a court order, nor were the detainees caught in flagrante delicto. The State also breached its obligations by automatically imposing preventive detention for all 16 detainees, without examining its necessity on a case-by-case basis. Secondly, the Working Group ruled that the arrests were a consequence of the activists’ exercising their freedom of opinion and expression, as well as expressing their critical position towards the government. Finally, the guarantees of a fair trial were violated in the activists’ case.
Although the activists were removed from prison and placed under house arrest in December 2019, the Working Group considered it important to rule on their case because the release “was unilaterally given by decision of the Executive Power, before there was a sentence and without the court’s endorsement of the case, with a judicial process that is still ongoing which could lead to a subsequent imprisonment.”
Furthermore, the Group referred the case to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to the Special Rapporteur on the right to the enjoyment of the highest standard of physical and mental health, to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders so that they may take appropriate measures.
100% Noticias Case
The opinion on the case of journalists and managers of 100% Noticias, also approved on May 1, 2020, was requested by the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) in November 2019. The Working Group requested information from the Government of Nicaragua in response to the complaint, but no response was obtained.
According to this opinion, the arrests of Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda “illustrate a pattern of arrests in Nicaragua” and were arbitrary according to categories I, II and III of the working methods.
Firstly, the two were not informed of the reasons for their arrest, nor were any charges brought against them. Again, preventive detention was automatically imposed. Secondly, the arrest was made in violation of their right to freedom of opinion, expression and information, as well as their right to participate in public affairs. Finally, international standards regarding the right to a fair trial were not applied.
The Working Group issued this opinion even though the journalists were released in June 2019 under Nicaragua’s controversial Amnesty Law, as their legal situation is uncertain. “The criminal proceedings were not definitively dismissed and at the same time it [the Amnesty Law] contains a provision that threatens the loss of the benefits of the Law for those who commit repetitive conduct that constitutes crimes, which generates legal uncertainty,” states the opinion.
Additionally, based on the information received regarding the disappearance of Lucía Pineda, the two journalists’ prison conditions, the lack of medical care, and the allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the Working Group referred the case to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the right to the enjoyment of the highest level of physical and mental health.
In both cases, the Working Group considered that the appropriate remedy from the Government of Nicaragua would be to release the 16 activists and 2 journalists in full freedom and grant them the right to reparation measures. The Working Group further urged the Government to carry out a thorough and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding these detentions and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of their rights.
Finally, the Working Group suggested that the Government consider allowing the Group to carry out an official visit to the country and requested that follow-up information on the cases be provided within a period of 6 months.