A court in Nicaragua has found two prominent opposition figures – among dozens arrested by the government of President Daniel Ortega in the lead up to last year’s election – guilty of “conspiracy”.
Dora Maria Tellez, a former rebel who fought alongside Ortega and served in his government before becoming leader of the opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement, and student leader Lesther Aleman were convicted on Thursday in trials held behind closed doors.
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Only a single member of family of each of the accused was allowed to witness the proceedings at the notorious El Chipote prison, where dozen of activists and opposition members are currently being held.
The independent Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights said the duo “were found guilty of forming an association of wrongdoers undermining national integrity”.
It added the “process was null and void because it violated the constitutional guarantees that stipulate that trials must be public and that the press must be able to attend”.
The Judicial Defence Unit, a coalition of lawyers, said a judge recommended that Tellez be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
It was not immediately clear how long of a sentence was being recommended for Aleman, the leader of the Nicaraguan University Alliance.
The judgements came after prosecutors on Monday announced they were starting trials of 46 political figures arrested between May and June in the run-up to Nicaragua’s November 7 presidential election.
Seven of those arrested were considered potential candidates to challenge Ortega, who won a fourth term after running essentially unopposed in an election dismissed as illegitimate by the United States, European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly.
Lawyer Vilma Nunez, who leads the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, decried the trials as “repressive farces” and “pre-ordained convictions of innocent people”.
In a Congressional hearing on Thursday, US Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said that Ortega’s abuse of Nicaragua’s justice system to imprison opponents in “horrific conditions” without adequate food and harsh sentences would have consequences ranging from US sanctions to its possible expulsion from the OAS.
Ortega’s government had said it initiated withdrawal from the group in November, although the country is currently still a member.
Former Sandinista rebel Tellez, 65, had led an assault on the National Palace in 1978 during the Somoza family dictatorship, holding congress members hostage in exchange for the release of rebel prisoners.
She later served as health minister in the first Sandinista government, which was led by Ortega from 1979 to 1990, before splitting from his party in 1995.
Aleman, 24, rose to fame after publicly calling for Ortega’s resignation during a dialogue between the government and activists involved in 2018 protests.
“His only crime is to have spoken in the name of everyone in 2018, confronting Mr Ortega with his crimes and demanding he leave office,” journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, speaking from exile in Costa Rica, wrote on Twitter.