Police abuses committed during a brutal crackdown by the National Police and armed pro-government groups in 2018 have gone unpunished. Persistent problems include severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association, political discrimination, and stringent restrictions on abortion. Detention and Prosecution of Critics Between late May and October 2021, authorities arbitrarily detained 7 presidential candidates and 32 prominent government critics. Prosecutors opened investigations against most on alleged “treason” charges. Since February, an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure has allowed prosecutors to request detentions of up to 90 days without charge; in most cases involving critics, courts have permitted them. In August, the Attorney General’s Office filed charges against most of the detainees, in criminal proceedings that lacked basic due process guarantees.
In August 2021, at least nine Indigenous persons were reportedly killed, and two women sexually abused, in an attack related to a dispute over gold mining in the Mayangna Sauni As Indigenous territory. The government granted the mining concession without prior consultation with the community. Homicides and aggressions “related to territorial disputes” in the area since January 2020 “remain unpunished, ” the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported. Both OHCHR and the IACHR point to a larger, persistent failure of the Nicaraguan government to title and protect Indigenous territories from invasions. Women and Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Rights Nicaragua has prohibited abortion under all circumstances since 2006, even when a pregnancy is life-threatening or results from rape or incest.
Attacks on Human Rights Defenders and Independent Media Human rights defenders and other critics are targets of death threats, assaults, intimidation, harassment, surveillance, online defamation campaigns, and arbitrary detention and prosecution. Police frequently station themselves outside the houses of government critics, preventing them from leaving, in what amounts to arbitrary arrest. Those harassed are unable to visit friends and family, attend meetings, go to work, or participate in protests or political activities. Some have been detained repeatedly—sometimes being abused during detention—for periods ranging from several days to several months. The government restricts freedom of expression for journalists and media outlets through threats, physical attacks, detentions, arbitrary financial investigations, arbitrary prosecutions, and forced closures. Between July 28 and August 26, 2021, authorities ordered the closure of 45 NGOs, including women’s groups, international aid organizations, and several medical associations.
Nicaraguan Asylum Seekers From April 2018 through June 2021, more than 110, 000 people fled Nicaragua, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported. Costa Rica hosts some 80, 000 Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers. Thousands more live in Mexico, Panama, Europe, and the United States. Key International Actors No international monitoring bodies have been allowed into the country since 2018, when the government expelled the IACHR Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua, the IACHR-appointed Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts, and OHCHR.
World Report 2022: Rights Trends in NicaraguaSince taking office in 2007, the government of President Daniel Ortega has dismantled nearly all institutional checks on presidential power. The Electoral Council, stacked with the president’s supporters, removed opposition lawmakers in 2016 and has barred opposition political parties ahead of the 2021 presidential elections. A constitutional amendment approved by President Ortega’s party, which controls the National Assembly, abolished term limits in 2014. President Ortega was elected to a fourth consecutive term in November amid government repression of critics and the political opposition. Many governments from the region and Europe said the elections had not met minimum guarantees to be considered free and fair. To pave the way for his re-election, authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government critics and political opponents, including presidential candidates, journalists, lawyers, and leaders of community, business, and student groups.
Ten others had been closed since 2018. In 2019, Army Commander in Chief Julio César Avilés Castillo called NGOs “coup-plotters”. Other organizations have announced their suspension of activities after the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents went into effect in 2020, requiring the registration of people and groups receiving foreign funding as “foreign agents” and preventing them from running for office. Police raided the offices of the newspaper Confidencial in May 2021, confiscating equipment and detaining a journalist for several hours without providing warrants for the detention or raid.
At least 16 journalists have been summoned as witnesses in a money laundering investigation into Cristiana Chamorro, a detained presidential candidate who, until its closure, headed an NGO dedicated to press freedom. Doctors and journalists have been threatened with charges under Nicaragua’s cybercrime law during interviews with prosecutors, according to news media. The law, passed in October 2020, criminalizes a wide range of online communications, including by punishing with sentences of up to five years the “publication” or “dissemination” of “false” or “distorted” information on the internet that is “likely to spread anxiety, anguish or fear.
Those who have abortions face prison sentences of up to two years; medical professionals who perform them can face up to six years. The ban forces women and girls confronting unwanted pregnancies to seek illegal and unsafe abortions, risking their health and lives. Rates of domestic abuse, violence against women, and femicide, defined in Nicaraguan law as a crime committed by a man who murders a woman “in the public or private sphere, ” have increased since 2019, OHCHR reported in February 2021.
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