The United Nations has condemned legislative reforms in Nicaragua that allow the government of President Daniel Ortega to strip dissidents of their citizenship.
On Friday, the UN refugee agency said that a decision by a Nicaraguan court to revoke the citizenship of 94 exiled dissidents earlier this week is contrary to international law. The court’s decision came after similar steps were taken against 222 political prisoners who were released by the government last week and sent to the United States.
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“The recent legislative reforms in Nicaragua allowing for citizenship-stripping on arbitrary grounds run contrary to Nicaragua’s obligations under international and regional human rights law,” the agency said. “International law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of nationality including on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.”
Among those who had their citizenship removed are Sergio Ramirez, a famous Nicaraguan author, and Silvio Baez, an outspoken Catholic bishop. Ortega has been accused of jailing political opponents and critical voices, using the authority of the state to remove rivals and consolidate power.
“There should be no persecution or reprisals against human rights defenders or individuals expressing critical views,” a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Thursday. “The right to nationality is a fundamental human right.”
On Thursday, the US also condemned the decision to remove the dissidents’ citizenship, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling the move “another step backwards for the Nicaraguan people and a further step toward solidifying an autocratic regime”.
Nicaragua’s push to render the dissidents effectively stateless came in the wake of an agreement on February 9 to release 222 political prisoners to the US.
Some hoped the release would signal an easing of tensions between the two countries, and on February 10, Blinken participated in a rare phone call with Nicaraguan foreign minister Denis Moncada, discussing the “importance of constructive dialogue”.
However, the decision by the Ortega government to strip what it calls “traitors to the fatherland” of their citizenship has since drawn sharp criticism from the US, as has the sentencing and imprisonment of another dissident Catholic bishop, Rolando Álvarez.
After Álvarez refused to board a plane to the US with the 222 other political prisoners, a Nicaraguan court sentenced him to 26 years in prison, on charges of conspiracy and sharing false information.
A prominent leader in Nicaragua since the late 1970s, Ortega returned to the presidency in 2007 and has been in power ever since. During that time, he has been accused of rolling back democratic reforms and cracking down on dissent.
In 2018, the Ortega government responded to widespread anti-government protests, initially sparked by proposed austerity measures, with heavy-handed repression that killed hundreds of people and led to widespread arrests.
In the wake of Thursday’s announcement, Baez, one of the exiled dissidents recently stripped of their citizenship, took to Twitter in defiance. He thanked God for “being Nicaraguan, a pride that no one can ever take away from me”.