Police in Nicaragua have arrested the brother of detained opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro, as President Daniel Ortega’s widely criticised crackdown on potential challengers continues just months before planned elections.
Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Barrios was arrested late on Friday under the country’s recently introduced sovereignty law.
Police said he was “being investigated for carrying out acts that damage the independence, sovereignty and self-determination” of the Central American nation.
He is among at least 20 prominent Nicaraguans – including his sister and four other politicians who were expected to run against Ortega in November’s presidential contest – who have been arrested since the beginning of June.
This week, Ortega justified the crackdown by saying his administration was arresting and prosecuting criminals who were plotting a coup against him. “It’s absurd to set them free. Everything we’re doing, we’re doing it by the book,” he said.
But civil society and human rights groups have accused the 75-year-old – who governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007, winning two successive re-election bids since then – of increasing authoritarianism.
The wave of arrests prompted Mexico and Argentina to withdraw their respective ambassadors to Nicaragua on June 21, as the two countries raised concerns about “the worrisome political-legal actions taken by the Nicaraguan government”.
The Organization of American States (OAS) also passed a resolution this month expressing alarm “at the recent deterioration of the political climate and human rights situation” in the country.
A former lawmaker, Pedro Joaquin had been a vocal critic of Ortega and was a member of the opposition Citizen Alliance grouping that was looking to contest the elections.
He is the son of former Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro, who defeated Ortega in 1990.
Pedro Joaquin’s brother, prominent journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, said on Twitter his brother has been “kidnapped” by police who “fabricate alleged crimes and criminal offences against citizens who demand free elections”.
Carlos Fernando this week went into exile abroad with his wife after the police raided his home.
Police in early June also raided the home of his sister, Cristiana Chamorro, on accusations of money laundering. She has rejected the allegation, saying it is an attempt to block her from running for president.