Washington, DC—On March 16, Nicaraguan security forces attacked demonstrators in Managua and other cities, arresting 107 people, according to government figures. It was the first major protest by Nicaragua’s opposition in four months, following an announcement by police last year that banned all protest without a permit. In a press release, the Nicaraguan police said they were releasing detainees in response to efforts by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, the AFP reported. According to research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) the Nicaraguan government must demonstrate its commitment to re-starting serious negotiations with representatives of the opposition by immediately releasing the reported hundreds of people who remain in prison for political activity, while also ending all ongoing repression against its citizenry.
“These recent attacks by Nicaragua’s police against peaceful protests are a deplorable assault on basic civil rights,” said WOLA Vice President for Programs Geoff Thale. “This casts doubt on the government’s seriousness about negotiations to end the country’s ongoing political and economic crisis.”
According to reports, the March 16 demonstrators were demanding the release of hundreds of people who remain in detention after they were arrested in past protests. The release of these detainees was a major condition established by representatives of the opposition coalition, after the government (under heavy pressure from the international human rights community) began exploring the prospect of re-starting dialogue. In what was seen as a gesture to these demands, in past weeks Nicaraguan authorities have released nearly 150 detainees to house arrest. Activist groups estimate over 700 anti-government protesters remain in detention. Many are believed to have been detained and charged under a new anti-terrorism law.
“Nicaragua’s government has released less than a quarter of those believed to still be in prison for exercising their right to peaceful protest. This, joined with Saturday’s wave of attacks and arrests, makes clear that President Ortega remains unwilling to tolerate dissent or negotiate over the most basic issues,” said Thale. “The government needs to demonstrate a serious commitment to negotiations by upholding the right to freedom of speech and association, and immediately moving to release all political prisoners.”