2020 was a year of systematic repression including the intensification of persecution against opponents of the Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo regime,that according to the Human Rights Collective, “Nunca Más”, seeks to “impose a de facto state of exception and denial of rights” through the use of three armed forces “Police, Army and paramilitary forces that have been carrying out raids and spilled blood since the protests of April 2018”.
While human rights organizations prepare to provide their annual report on violations in 2020 in Nicaragua, the data revealed by the Blue and White Monitoring, and the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation give us a dimension of the situation: four attacks per day laying siege against opposition activists and one violation of press freedom every 30 hours are just some examples of human rights violations included in their 2020 reports. The rights denied to the population is greater.
La Lupa identified seven human rights violations that persist, and which Human Rights organizations fear will worsen in this electoral year in which the Ortega-Murillo regime has shown itself “to be unwilling to leave power via a peaceful route”.
1. Right of free speech and opinion (Article 19 UDHR).
On October 27, 2020, the National Assembly, dominated by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), approved the Special Cybercrime Law, baptized as the “Gag Law” by the opposition and independent media. This law punishes people and entities that the regime of Daniel Ortega and RosarioMurillo, consider “spread false news” on social networks or the media. The Cybercrime Law was approved with 70 votes in favor cast by FSLN members of the National Assembly.
With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Nicaragua, the secrecy of the authorities prevailed even in the face of the complaints from the family of those killed by COVID-19 and facts disseminated by independent media. In her daily speech on official channels Rosario Murillo the vice President and regime’s spokesperson accused the media and relatives of spreading false news and generating suspicion among the population.
Human Rights Organizations have denounced the regime’s intention to persecute independent media and any opposition to Ortega. The investigation “Situational Status of Press Freedom and Access to Public Information 2010-2020” by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (VBChF) reveals “the persistence of an aggressive environment towards press freedom and access to public information”. The Ortega regime has closed and confiscated 20 media outlets.
Guillermo Medrano, coordinator of the FVBCh’s Human Rights Program, indicated that the official policy has been to “punish the media that do not submit to the official narrative”, and although 70 journalists have gone into exile as a result of the socio-political crisis, at least 27 new digital portals have emerged inside and outside the country. An attack against independent press was committed every 30 hours, and at least six journalists have been taken to court.
On October 15, Daniel Ortega’s regime approved the first measure of a three pronged legal reform designed to be used “selectively against opponents.” The “Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents” aims to control the financing that individuals or legal entities receive from international organizations. The law requires them to register at the Ministry of the Interior as “foreign agents”, suspends their political rights and authorizes the confiscation of organizational and private assets.
Article one of the Law states that its aim is: “to establish a regulatory legal framework applicable to natural or legal persons, nationals or of another nationalities, who act on, and obtain financing from foreign interests, using these resources to carry out activities that represent the interference of foreign governments, organizations or individuals in the internal and external affairs of Nicaragua”.
The Ortega-Murillo regime has maintained an official narrative in which it accuses the population that participated in the civic protests of April 2018 of “interference” and of plotting a “coup”. The massive popular protests resulted in 328 murdered at the hands of police and paramilitaries, for which no-one has faced justice.
On November 10, the National Assembly approved the constitutional reform establishing the use of life imprisonment to be implemented this January. The Life imprisonment Law is an amendment to Article 37 of the Political Constitution, which previously established a maximum thirty years sentence.
This law was designed by the regime to punish, according to them, those who commit hate crimes, using femicides as a justification. However, human rights defenders, lawyers and opponents allege that it will be used against those who dare to speak outin opposition the regime.
The three-pronged legal measures threaten not only the political opposition but also the freedom of association of civil society organizations, stripping them of their legal status, confiscating their goods as a result of their participation inprotests, and violating their freedom of expression and of the press.
2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country. (Art. 21 UDHR)
The finishing touch to the repression with which the regime closed 2020, was the “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”, approved in an extraordinary session of the National Assembly on December 21.
Article 1 of the initiative has the effect of proscribing all Nicaraguans, who in the opinion of the authorities, “lead or finance a coup”, “promote terrorist acts”, “incite foreign injection into internal affairs”, “organize with financing from foreign powers to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilization”, “exalt and applaud sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens”, among others.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ruled against this law and demanded its repeal, expressing concern “that the law approved would disproportionately limit the political rights enshrined in the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) since “it does not require procedures or define the competent legal authorities for this determination. (…) And it results in a serious risk of a discretionary and arbitrary application of the provisions (…) it would violate the political rights of all people opposed to the current Government”.
Beginning in January 2021, Ortega has just five months to establish the electoral reforms demanded by the opposition and international bodies to guarantee free and transparent elections in 2021. The resolution for reforms was approved by the Organization of American States (OAS) in May 2021.
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3. Every person has the right to move freely and to choose their residence with in the territory of a State. (Art.13 UDHR)
The blocking of freedom of movement has been one of the measures applied by Ortega’s Police as a way to stop any hint of insurgency by opposition citizens or social movement organizations.
In September 2020, the Nicaraguan Human Rights Collective “Nunca Más” (NHRCNA) denounced that political prisoners, human rights defenders, political activists, and the family of those murdered by the regime experienced a “permanent siege” and “police harassment”. In addition “meetings held by the political opposition, the National Coalition Organization, were banned by the regime” which caused an increase in police attacks and harassment.
Throughout 2020 the police constantly harassed and laid siege to the houses of political activists and members of the Blue and White National Unit (UNAB), Félix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, members of the autonomous “Self-Convened” movement such as Flor Ramírez, Lenin Salablanca and Tania Múñoz, the social activist Karelia de la Vega, and TikToker Kevin Monzón to name just a few.
“The State is using para-police agents or armed civilian agents of the state along with the National Police to threaten and attack citizens in order to intimidate them” denounced the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua “Nunca Más” in its most recent Bulletin No: 9: Deterioration of Human Rights in Nicaragua.
According to Blue and White Monitoring, in 2020 there were 1,797 claims of harassment against opposition activists, and up to 294 reports per month were registered.
4. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of them selves and their family… (Art. 25 UDHR)
Since March 18, 2020, when the first case of coronavirus was made official, the Ministry of Health (Minsa) has maintained a hermetic policy regarding the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date it is unknown how many COVID tests have been performed, how many were positive, how many people have been infected and how many Nicaraguans have died.
In May, MINSA provided confusing and limited reports about the first months. It went to the extreme of only offering its data in press conferences reserved for official media outlets, without any Q&A with journalists. Due to the secretive behavior of the government, the number of hospitalized, theirgeographical location and the behavior of the curve of the contagion nationally is unknown.
According to official figures to January 12th 2021, the Ministry of Health had confirmed 6,155 cases and 167 deaths. However, the COVID-19 Citizen’s Observatory-which keeps a parallel registry and confirms the data through its networks of contacts in the health sector-puts infection rates at 12,114 and deaths to 2,890 deaths until January 6, 2021. Epidemiologists have indicated that there is alarge under-registration of cases because many people have avoided going to the hospital and have been cared for at home.
The Ortega regime managed to get international organizations to approve loans to deal with the health emergency. In total, it has received 248.3 million dollars to face COVID-19, provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank (WB). However, no country strategy for the pandemic has been presented, while large group activities have been encouraged which have facilitated the risk of contagion.
The Citizen Observatory of COVID-19 indicates in it srecords that at least 112 deaths have been reported by health personnel. Independent doctors warned of that another outbreak of COVID-19 is inevitable, however, but the health authorities have not decreed measures for the population, which has resulted in a relaxation of individual prevention measures by Nicaraguan citizens.
5. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country (Art.13 UDHR)
Contrary to other countries, which protected their citizens stranded around the world against the pandemic, the Ortega-Murillo regime closed the doors to a group of more than 400 citizens, who were returning from Costa Rica, using the argument that they did not present a negative COVID-19 molecular (PCR) test result.
The Nicaraguans were stranded at the Peñas Blancas border post for at least 15 days, under the hot sun and drenching rain, and suffered from thirst, hunger and the total lack of basic conditions of food, shelter and sanitation at the border post. Most of these people were trying to return to their home country due to unemployment in Costa Rica, as a result of the pandemic.
This situation was denounced in the national and international media. In view of the health emergency that this implied, three civil society organizations and a private hospital in Costa Rica carried out a COVID-19 test on the more than 400 Nicaraguans who were stranded at the Peñas Blancas border post. This enabled them to return to home.
6. Everyone has the right to an effective resolution by the competent national judicial authorities for any act that violates the fundamental rights granted to all citizens under the country’s constitution and laws. (Art. 8 UDHR)
The spokesperson for the regime, Rosario Murillo, announced the reopening of the Police Commisariats for Women, Children and Adolescents, after their closure by the government itself. This “re-opening” has been criticized by feminist organizations as a sham, as the number of femicides continues to increase.
In 2020 Catholics for the Right to Decide (CRD) registered a total of 71 femicides, closing a decade which saw 629 gender-based crimes which have left 614 children orphaned. The organization denounced the promotion of impunity by the State, and affirms that of the total number of femicides in 2020 only 20 of the perpetrators have been convicted. Feminists fear that even these men may be set free as part of massive releases of common criminals carried out by the regime. These releases have freed more than 20,000 common prisoners while many political prisoners remain in jail.
The state of impunity in cases of violence against women was reflected in a phenomenon that in April 2020 over whelmed social media. More than100 complaints of sexual violence against citizens and well-known public figures went viral, but according to the blog ̈ The space” most of these cases have not been registered with Ortega’ police force, as those denouncing these crimes do not trust the institution.
Feminist organizations denounced the increase in sexist violence of all kinds under the current conditions of constant repression and harassment, the pandemic, and a breakdown of social order. To make matters worse, the State is enabling impunity in cases attacks and threats on people’s lives, which has worsened over the last three years.
7. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. (Art. 9 UDHR)
The demand for the release of prisoners of conscience is constant. However, the Ortega regime is keeping more than 106 people in prison for exercising their right to peaceful protest. The latest report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, details that at least 1,614 people have been imprisoned since April 2018.
During the month of December 2020 the families of political prisoners continued their demand for the Christmas release of political prisoners, with no response from the regime. These families are also enduring police harassment as they lay siege to their homes. The political prisoners themselves have gone on hunger strikes to make their demands heard.
After almost a year of being unable to exercise the right to protest and mobilization, a group of young people including Sergio Beteta, an ex-UNAN protester from 2018, carried out an “express picket” outside the Central American University (UCA). Ortega’s police responded with repression and the violent detention of Beteta, after which a judicial process was opened accusing him of drug trafficking, using psychotropics and other controlled substances and the illegal possession of weapons. He continues to be arbitrarily detained.