Washington, D.C. July 30th, 2019. A resurgence of the human rights crisis that Nicaragua has suffered since April 2018 has taken place in recent weeks with the occurrence of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions committed by police and parastatal armed groups, especially in rural areas, as well as the persecution of human rights defenders and journalists.
The selective persecution of peasants and social leaders in rural areas is not new, since the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH, for its initials in Spanish) has documented its occurrence since 2007. However, the executive director of CENIDH, Marlin Sierra, points out that this type of case has been a continuation of the actions that were carried out in previous years.
“The pattern they are using is the same: these are people who were killed on the roads, with guns. Although they claim they were common criminals, militarization remains in the countryside,” says Sierra, clarifying that most of the killings are of people who were opponents of the government before the crisis or who joined the demonstrations once the crisis broke out in April last year.
From July 2018 to June 2019, CENIDH has documented 21 of these murders in the city of Jinotega, in the north of the country, specifically in the communities of Wiwilí, El Cua and Pantasma.
Consistent with the CENIDH data, a report by the Nicaraguan sociologist Elvira Cuadra, interviewed by La Prensa, revealed that from October 2018 until July 15 of this year “it is possible to observe an increase in murders in rural areas; a good part of the victims are social and political leaders linked to the civic movement or opposition political parties.”
During the time documented by Cuadra, 29 selective murders were committed by paramilitary groups with the complacency of the Police. In 28 of those cases, a gun was used to commit the crime.
A case that is not included in this list is that of José Alejandro Martínez, age 27, since he managed to survive the armed attack. Martínez, who was a political prisoner and was released from prison four months ago, was shot dead near his home in Wiwilí, allegedly by a paramilitary member. After the attack, doctors told Martinez that he would not be able to walk again.
Another worrying case, although it did not occur in a rural area, was the murder of Bryan Murillo López, a 22-year-old man who was killed by police officers inside his own home in the city of León. Police violently broke in Murillo’s house at 4:30 am on Wednesday, July 17. Murillo died from three shots in the chest. The relatives of the young man presume that there may be political reasons behind the attack, since he participated in the protests and marches that took place last year.
In the same event, as a result of police violence, two other members of the same family were injured: Kenner Murillo López and his brother-in-law Javier Cortez Castillo. The Police released a statement that referred to the victims as criminals, however, the mothers of the youths presented evidence that the police themselves had no records for any of the supposed cases.
Another form of repression that has continued for 15 months since the beginning of the human rights crisis is the arbitrary detention of both protesters and former political prisoners.
One of the most recent cases is that of Jaime Enrique Navarrete, who was kidnapped in front of his house by police officers on Wednesday, July 24, and who is now being prosecuted for the crimes of possession of narcotics and illegal carrying of firearms. According to local media, Navarrete was brought before the judge with a broken nose and bruises all over his body due to the beatings he received in police custody.
Edwin Altamirano, another political prisoner, was also arrested on Thursday, July 17, at his home in Managua. According to his relatives, police officers entered the house with violence and without a warrant and took him away without explaining the reason for his arrest.
Two other young men, Kevin Orlando López, from Estelí, and Brayan Cruz Calderón, from Managua, both former political prisoners, were captured in June and July and are being charged with common crimes such as drug possession and robbery with intimidation.
This type of capture has also been committed against citizens publicly known as opponents of the government in different cities of the country, although in several cases releases have been reported a couple of days after the arbitrary detentions.
“We are receiving daily reports of threats, not only of aggression or surveillance, but direct threats of death,” explains Marlin Sierra, who has received complaints from across the country, especially from the cities of Matagalpa, Jinotega, Estelí and Managua.
Persecution of human rights defenders
Human rights defenders and lawyers of political prisoners have also been the target of persecution and intimidation by police groups.
The latest case occurred on Friday, July 26, with the arrest of the lawyer of the Permanent Commission of Human Rights (CPDH, for its initials in Spanish), María Oviedo, who was arrested by police officers in the city of Masaya. Police accused her of “obstruction of functions” in court. After two days of being detained, the court granted alternate measures to Oviedo, so that she will face the penal process from outside of prison.
Lawyer of #HumanRights & activist in #Nicargua, Maria Oviedo, was released 2day after arbitrary been detained by the NP. This type of arrests is a form of oppression the #OrtegaRegime uses to intimidate any person who is pro democracy but Maria says she’ll continue 2 do her job. https://t.co/sx8PyoqmBm— NicaBeauty (@NicabeautyU) July 28, 2019
In Managua, on July 15, about 7 patrol cars full of riot agents surrounded the facilities of the CPDH after a group of young people conducted a ‘flash’ protest of 5 minutes. CPDH is the only non-governmental human rights organization still authorized by law to provide public aid, and last month received provisional measures from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, along with the CENIDH.
“The surveillance and persecution and the smear campaign against us are permanent,” denounced the executive director of CENIDH, Marlin Sierra, who believes that “the State ignores completely the disposition of the Court.”
Only one day after the incident at the CPDH, on July 16, the group of lawyers known as “People Defenders” denounced that about six police patrols were surrounding the access roads to their facilities. On July 20, the Police sent the car of the lawyer Yonarquis Martínez, defender of several political prisoners, to the vehicle depot without explaining reasons. A couple of days later, the lawyer managed to recover her vehicle and driver’s license.
The crisis faced by human rights defenders has also deepened due to the legal status of the nine NGOs arbitrarily deprived of legal status not being re-established after seven months; nor were their assets returned. The threat and the intention to criminalize them and bring them to court is always present, as has been demonstrated in the case of the CPDH lawyer, María Oviedo.
Independent journalism continues under regime violence
Journalist Juan Carlos Bow, from Confidencial, was injured in his right hand while interviewing the relative of a person detained at the protest. He was shot with a marble pellet by the police agents that repressed a demonstration occurring on July 25 in the city of Managua.
The website of radio La Costeñísima was subject to a cyber attack with the purpose of blocking it, while the facilities of 100% News and Confidencial, Esta Semana, Esta Noche and Niú continue to be held by the police.
The main print media also continue to face obstacles to retrieve their raw materials from customs. La Prensa newspaper has failed to clear its paper and raw materials that have been arbitrarily retained for 48 weeks.
The facts described above show that the Nicaraguan crisis has worsened and that its lethal effects on people who are identified as opponents of the regime do not cease.
Taking all this into account, Race and Equality makes a vehement call to the State of Nicaragua to fulfill its international commitments in the field of human rights and to respect the provisions of the Declaration on Defenders. In addition, we demand that the State comply with the provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court in favor of CENIDH and CPDH.
We also demand that the State guarantee thorough and independent investigations into extrajudicial killings and other acts of lethal violence in which police and state agents have participated.
Similarly, we urge the Organization of American States (OAS) to comply with the urgency of the case by creating the High Level Commission provided for in the Resolution approved by the General Assembly in Medellin, Colombia, to seek a peaceful solution to the serious crisis that has overwhelmed Nicaragua since April 2018.