The Daniel Ortega-Rosario Murillo regime sanctions judicial persecution to punish public officials and all those who dare to investigate corruption in Nicaragua. Such was one of the main conclusions of a report by the Center for Transdisciplinary Studies of Central America (CETCAM), a social research institute based in Costa Rica.
“The penal system is used as a political instrument and tool to displace the rights of the people being prosecuted and investigated, violating the supra-legality of human rights to carry out acts contrary to them,” Elvira Cuadra, a security expert and CETCAM director, told Diálogo on October 29. “As such, political regimes control and neutralize critical groups, opponents, or people considered a threat to them, seeking to legalize these despotic acts.”
According to the September 28 CETCAM report, the Ortega-Murillo regime built a totalitarian state by dismantling organized opposition groups, crushing the voices of the Catholic Church, and eliminating thousands of civil organizations to consolidate its control over public institutions through legal bodies approved between 2020 and 2021.
“The way in which the State’s punitive power is exercised is through the instrumentalization of criminal law for eminently political ends or the judicialization of politics,” Juan-Diego Barberena, lawyer and researcher of Criminal Justice Systems at CETCAM, told Diálogo. “This is a manifestation of the involution of the rule of law. Power is no longer subject to the law, but rather the law is subject to power.”
The first is the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents (Law No. 1040), published in October 2020, which declares all civil society organizations and natural persons as agents at the service of foreign sources that infringe on national sovereignty by meddling in Nicaragua’s internal and external affairs.
“A procedure as recurrent as it is perverse in Nicaragua and other dictatorships: inventing requirements on the fly, denouncing, without evidence or possible defense their non-compliance and allocating the consequences at the disposition of the power against those they want to remove from their path,” Costa Rican daily La Nación reported. “Its obscurantism and repressive character are exclusively focused on control, not on the present and future quality of life of the people.”
The regime also created in October 2020, the Special Law on Cybercrimes (Law No. 1042) that imposes censorship on independent media and social network users, and which Central American news site Divergentes described as “an axe against freedom of expression.”
In December 2020, the Legislative Assembly published the Law for the Defense of the People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination (Law No. 1055), which qualifies any person as a traitor to the homeland for inciting foreign intervention, calling for and applauding sanctions, or obtaining foreign financing, with the aim of undermining the integrity of national sovereignty.
“The accusation of treason, which the Sandinista regime is so fond of, is nothing more than the conversion of freedom of expression into a serious crime — treason, which generally can only be carried out in a war or in situations of extreme confrontation,” José María Tojeira, spokesman for the Society of Jesus in Nicaragua, told Nicaraguan news site Confidencial. “The persecution of the churches and their works continues. The radios, accounts, facilities, and aid organizations of parishes, dioceses, and evangelical churches continue under the control and inefficient power of the Sandinista State.”
The Law of Reform and Addition to the Criminal Procedural Code (Law No. 1060), published in February 2021, allows the judicial authority to imprison someone for up to 90 days, while the Prosecutor’s Office and the National Police investigate the detainee in order to proceed with their indictment.
“We are facing the manifestation of the judicialization of politics and a criminal system of maximum persecution, which began with the siege of the organized political opposition,” Barberena said. “It continued with religious harassment, persecuting organized civil society, and has already reached the level of persecution of higher education.”
The Ortega-Murillo regime has ordered the closure of some 3,000 nongovernmental organizations, Salvadoran daily El Diario de Hoy reported. Among them, dozens of universities were shut down as part of a tightening of laws following the 2018 protests, which left about 300 dead in clashes between regime opponents and supporters.