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President Daniel Ortega speaks to supporters
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Zuniga

Nicaragua releases dozens of opposition prisoners

April 7, 2019

The prisoners were in jail for taking part in protests against President Daniel Ortega. Their release has been a key opposition demand during negotiations to end Nicaragua's political crisis.


Nicaragua's government freed another 50 political prisoners on Friday, bringing the total number of people released since February to 200. The prisoners had been jailed during protests against President Daniel Ortega that began a year ago.

The prisoner releases came two days after negotiations between the government and the opposition drew to a close, with Ortega's representatives having committed to a "complete" release of political prisoners by mid-May.

Ortega's government also agreed to the nullification of trials, convictions and outstanding arrest warrants.

Not fully free

The Interior Ministry said that the freed individuals included students, farmworkers and professionals arrested for taking part in the protest.

Although the jailed demonstrators, who were accused of "disrupting the public order and attacking the peace," were released, the charges against them were not dropped.

Read more: Anti-Ortega protests in Nicaragua: Torture, blacklists and job dismissals

For the most part, they were transferred to a form of house arrest, a move that falls short of the unrestricted freedom that the opposition had demanded.

Nonetheless, Luis Alvarado, a representative from Nicaragua to the Organization of American States (OAS), said the prisoner releases were "proof of the commitment of the state and government of Nicaragua with the agreements reached so far" in the talks.

Azahalea Solis, a leader of the Civic Alliance and one of the negotiators, said the releases were unexpected. She was disappointed that the Nicaraguan government had not coordinated with her group and the Red Cross to ascertain that these individuals were on their list of political prisoners.

Opposition march thwarted

On the same day of the prisoner release, the police announced it would not authorize an opposition march scheduled for Saturday. Although the government imposed a de facto ban on demonstrations last year, protesters have still managed to mobilize in smaller gatherings.

Authorities said that the organizer of Saturday's protest, National Blue and White Unity, a coalition to which the Civic Alliance belongs, did not "have legitimacy to hold gatherings" and was "involved in serious disturbances of public order" in previous weeks.

Read more: Nicaragua: Students defy death threats to fight Daniel Ortega government

Nicaragua has been embroiled in a political crisis that began a year ago, when the government introduced an unpopular pension reform plan. Protesters and the opposition have demanded that Ortega step down and call for early elections, something that the 72-year-old former guerrilla leader has refused to do.

Nicaragua's government has accused protesters of being "coup plotters" and "terrorists" bent on toppling Ortega's government.

Read more: Nicaragua 2.0: Will history repeat itself?

But as the economic situation deteriorated due to sanctions imposed by the US and the toll that frequent demonstrations have had on commerce, the Ortega government started to negotiate with the opposition.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have died, 2,000 have been injured and at least 52,000 have fled the country into exile, as a result of Nicaragua's political unrest.

jcg/jm (EFE, AP, AFP)

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