Calls grow to release Nicaraguan prisoners after Ortega opponent dies

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Managua (AFP) – Calls grew on Monday for dozens of opposition figures jailed in Nicaragua to be released after the death of a potential presidential candidate, fueling fears for the health and safety of others.

Hugo Torres, a 73-year-old former guerrilla mate of current President Daniel Ortega, died in custody on Saturday after concerns were repeatedly raised for his well-being.

Other detainees are also in dire straits, according to family members and rights advocates who say prisoners are malnourished, losing weight, teeth and memory, and growing weaker by the day. .

“Many face a serious risk to their health and lives,” former Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) president Antonia Urrejola said on Twitter.

The European Union, via external affairs spokesman Peter Stano, called for “the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners…subjected to inhuman conditions of detention” in Nicaragua.

And US State Department Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols said “continuing to hold prisoners in these conditions, especially the elderly, is unacceptable. We urge their immediate release.”

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodolfo Solano said he was “concerned” about the health of the remaining detainees and, in a statement, urged Nicaragua to allow visits by representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. ‘man.

The Organization of American States (OAS) said it “categorically condemns the persecution and arbitrary detention” of Nicaraguans and called for the immediate release of all political prisoners.

“The OAS General Secretariat considers the keeping of political prisoners, with terminal illnesses and without necessary medical assistance, an abominable act, violating their fundamental rights,” he said in a statement.

‘Inhuman’

Torres, who risked his own life to break Ortega out of prison in the 1970s during the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship, later became a critic of the president and entered opposition politics.

But ahead of last November’s elections in which Torres was due to run, he was arrested along with dozens of other opposition figures, including seven presidential candidates.

The prosecutor’s office did not say Torres’ cause of death and said he was transferred to a hospital “from the moment his condition deteriorated”.

But Monica Baltodano, an ally of Torres now living in exile, said he was taken to hospital on December 17, already unconscious and in poor health.

Jared Genser, an attorney for some of the inmates, said from Miami that Torres’ death was “completely preventable and predictable” and “probably not the last.”

In total, Ortega’s government detained 46 opposition figures, including Torres, accusing them of undermining Nicaragua’s “national integrity”.

To date, 18 have been convicted and seven sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to 13 years.

Another 124 critics have been in jail since 2018 anti-government protests were met with a brutal crackdown that left 355 people dead and more than 100,000 people fled into exile, according to the IACHR.

Costa Rica-based rights group the Center for Justice and International Law called for the “unconditional release” of Nicaragua’s “political prisoners” and said Torres’ death must not go unpunished.

Ortega, 76, won re-election to a fourth consecutive term in November’s elections, slammed as an undemocratic “farce” by the international community, which tightened sanctions in response.