Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Nicaragua frees more than 100 jailed protesters

The Guardian

A masked demonstrator dances with a Nicaraguan national flag to celebrate the release of 56 political prisoners in Masaya, Nicaragua, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Nicaragua has released more than 100 political prisoners under a new law that frees people arrested amid a year of anti-government protests while also protecting police and others who violently clamped down on the demonstrations.

A total of 56 people arrested since the protests began were freed on Tuesday, a day after 50 others were released, bringing the number behind bars to about 80, down from hundreds previously.

Those released on Tuesday included the campesino leaders Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena, and student leader Edwin Carcache.

Miguel Mora and Lucia Pineda Ubau, the director and spokeswoman for the 100% Noticias TV channel that was shut down by authorities in December last year, were also freed.

Neighbors and friends gathered to receive the newly released activists with Nicaraguan flags, blue-and-white balloons and cheers.

The government has been gradually releasing prisoners since dialogue between the two sides reopened in February, although those talks later stalled with little progress on reaching agreement, in part over opposition demands that all jailed government opponents be freed and cleared of charges.

Defense attorney Julio Montenegro demanded that the government free all remaining, “because none of the political prisoners is guilty of a crime.”

Tuesday’s releases came as a surprise, with no prior word from the government, he added.

“It was to prevent there being a media presence at the releases and to avoid having people’s excitement be seen,” Montenegro said. “But that all got to social media regardless.”

Street protests erupted in April last year, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega tried to cut welfare benefits, and spiraled into a broader protest movement against his government.

Earlier this week, lawmakers passed an amnesty bill for crimes related to the protests.

The government said that the amnesty seeks the “reconciliation of society” and that further releases would come.

Opposition leaders — and the UN’s top human rights official — have said that the measure would forgive abuses by police and pro-government civilian militias during a crackdown on demonstrators, in which at least 325 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 wounded.

The law extends protections to “people who have not been investigated, who find themselves under investigation” or in criminal processes and “complying with their sentences.”

It also bans freed political prisoners from launching further anti-government protests.

One of those freed, Hansell Vasquez, said that he felt “happy to have escaped that hell,” but also “sad and worried, because the country is more locked up than when we became prisoners.”

Irlanda Jerez, another protest leader freed on Tuesday, said that armed men attacked her home and beat her husband minutes after her release.

More than 60,000 Nicaraguans have gone into exile because of political strife over the past 14 months.

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