As the date approaches for Nicaragua’s presidential elections, scheduled for November 7, 2021, the Daniel Ortega regime is intensifying the persecution of opponents, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in an August 5 statement.
“Starting in early June, Nicaraguan authorities have arbitrarily detained and opened seemingly politically motivated criminal investigations against seven leading opposition presidential candidates and at least 20 prominent government critics,” José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of HRW’s Americas Division, said. “This appears to be part of a broader strategy to eliminate political competition, stifle dissent, and pave the way for President Daniel Ortega’s re-election to a fourth consecutive term.”
In Nicaragua, terror dominates among opposition politicians, activists, and analysts, who no longer want to speak to journalists for fear of losing their freedom, the Spanish newspaper El País reported on August 7. The Sandinista regime is intimidating defense attorneys of jailed presidential candidates, forcing them to flee the country, HRW said.
Elton Ortega (no relation to Daniel Ortega), defense attorney of opposition politicians Arturo Cruz and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, who were imprisoned for what the law considers “high treason,” left the country due to threats. Ortega is the first lawyer to flee Nicaragua, the international radio station Deutsche Welle said.
Authorities arrested Cruz on June 5 and Chamorro on June 8. Both were charged with “asking for military interventions; organizing terrorist and destabilizing acts with funding from foreign powers; requesting, exalting, and applauding the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua and its citizens; and inciting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s affairs,” HRW reported. Other detainees accused of the same crimes are also being held incommunicado at the El Chipote prison in Managua, the institution added.
Election without competition
In a June 9 statement, the U.S. government asked the Nicaraguan regime to immediately release Cruz, Chamorro, and other opposition leaders. “The United States is imposing sanctions on several members of the Ortega regime who are complicit in the regime’s repression, and that includes for its failure to implement the electoral reforms called for by the Organization of American States and the U.N. Human Rights Council,” the U.S. Department of State said.
On August 6, the Supreme Electoral Council disqualified the Citizens for Freedom party, because the alliance’s legal representative, Kitty Monterrey, has dual citizenship, the Mexican newspaper El Universal reported. As a result, Ortega is the only remaining candidate for the upcoming elections.
Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, “want to win the elections without competition,” the European Union (EU) said in an August 9 press release. By stripping the last remaining political opposition party of its legal entity ahead of the general elections in November crushes the prospects of a credible and legitimate electoral process, the EU added.
In addition, Emmanuel Colombié, regional director for the NGO Reporters Without Borders’ Latin America bureau, told the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa that, “in the run-up to the presidential election in November 2021, Daniel Ortega is strengthening his censorship arsenal and is initiating abusive legal proceedings against all his opponents and against independent media in particular.” On August 14, the Nicaraguan police raided the premises of La Prensa and confiscated its paper, while its managing director Juan Lorenzo Holmann remains imprisoned and the newspaper remains closed as of August 24, the Spanish news portal Periodistas reported. La Prensa is still active online.