Police in Nicaragua have detained a vice-presidential hopeful seeking to contest the country’s November vote, her party said on Wednesday, as a crackdown by President Daniel Ortega’s government on opposition leaders and presidential challengers continues.
More than two dozen figures have been arrested since early June in what rights groups and international observers have said is an attempt by Ortega to freeze out opponents as he seeks to secure a fourth consecutive term as president.
Berenice Quezada, who was Miss Nicaragua in 2017, was detained at her home late on Tuesday night and placed under house arrest, her Citizens Alliance for Liberty (CXL) party said.
“Quezada … is under house arrest without access to a telephone, with migratory restrictions and prohibited from running for public office,” the party, Nicaragua’s main opposition alliance, tweeted on Wednesday.
“We demand that she be freed and Berenice Quezada’s human rights respected.”
CXL announced last week that Quezada would seek the vice presidency on the ticket of the party’s presidential challenger, Oscar Sobalvarro, a 68-year-old former right-wing fighter.
The Nicaraguan attorney general’s office said in a statement that Quezada had committed acts that “incite hatred and violence”, and that she should be under house arrest.
Nicaragua’s Confidencial news outlet reported on Tuesday that a complaint of “terrorism crime” had been filed against Quezada on Tuesday to Nicaragua’s electoral council over her critical remarks about a lack of freedoms in the country.
When enrolling on Monday for the election, Quezada vowed to campaign for the freedom of “political prisoners” and urged supporters to head out in droves to vote “as you did in the streets” in anti-government protests in 2018.
‘Prevent further abuses’
The recent wave of arrests has prompted condemnation from rights groups and international observers, but Ortega has justified it by saying his administration was prosecuting criminals who were plotting a coup against him and are backed by the United States.
The 75-year-old Sandinista leader spent a decade in power after leading rebels who deposed Anastasio Somoza in 1979. He returned to office in 2007, winning re-election in 2011 and 2016, but his recent rule has been marked by widespread protests.
International calls for Ortega to release the recent detainees and ensure free and fair elections on November 7 are growing louder, as are punitive measures being taken against the Nicaraguan government.
The US and European Union have imposed visa curbs and a string of sanctions against Nicaraguan officials in recent weeks, accusing them of violating the rule of law and being responsible for rights abuses.
This week, the EU imposed sanctions against eight more officials, including Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also Ortega’s wife and will be his running mate in the upcoming election.
“The political use of the judicial system, the exclusion of candidates from the elections and the arbitrary delisting of opposition parties are contrary to basic democratic principles and constitute a serious violation of the rights of the Nicaraguan people,” the bloc said in a statement on Monday.
Meanwhile, the head of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division called on United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “step up UN efforts to prevent further abuses” in the Central American nation.
“The Ortega regime’s harassment of defense lawyers has forced some into exile. By intimidating lawyers, Ortega is denying critics’ right to a fair trial,” Jose Miguel Vivanco tweeted on Wednesday.
The Ortega regime's harassment of defense lawyers has forced some into exile. By intimidating lawyers, Ortega is denying critics' right to a fair trial. @antonioguterres must step up UN efforts to prevent further abuses. @hrw: https://t.co/TW4kHTEvLx
— José Miguel Vivanco (@JMVivancoHRW) August 4, 2021
Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council has until August 9 to validate or reject the candidates proposed by parties and alliances standing in the elections on November 7.