The human rights organisation Amnesty International has warned that the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo is deepening repression in the Central American state.
In a report released on Tuesday, the organisation stated that the government has engaged in abuses such as arbitrary detention, torture and stripping dissidents of citizenship.
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“We’ve shown the continuum of repression to which Nicaraguan society has been subjected and the different patterns of human rights violations inflicted on people who dare to raise their voices,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a news release.
The Ortega government has been accused of consolidating power and cracking down on voices of opposition since April 2018, when anti-austerity protests against cuts to social security benefits were met with a heavy-handed government response in which hundreds of people were killed and detained.
Our report explains the main tactics – excessive use of force, use of criminal laws to unjustly criminalize dissidents, attacks on civil society and forced exile – that the government has used to silence any voices of criticism.
Out now 👇 https://t.co/ww6NOH5ahc
— Amnesty International (@amnesty) April 18, 2023
The report said that the government has continued to “expand and reinvent” such patterns of repression through a variety of methods, including excessive force, attacks on civil society groups, and using the judiciary to target opponents.
Kai Thaler, a professor of global studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told Al Jazeera that repression in Nicaragua has contributed to a regional trend of declining democratic freedoms that has also affected neighbouring countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala.
“Ortega and Murillo’s ability to consolidate an authoritarian regime and retain power despite a brutal crackdown and international pressure can only reassure other leaders that they can go ahead dismantling democratic institutions or persecuting opponents with little fear,” Thaler said in response to written questions.
In their report on Tuesday, Amnesty said that the Ortega government has “co-opted” the judicial system, pursuing “unfair trials of people merely because they were considered critical of the government”.
“International law prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of nationality including on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds,” the agency said in a news release at the time.
That decision came shortly after the government had expelled 222 political prisoners, sending them to the United States and forcing them into exile.
Civil society organisations, human rights activists and independent media have also suffered from harassment, loss of legal status and raids by police forces, the report states.
“The state of civil society and the press is dire due to the systematic erosion of civic space by the government in the past five years,” Irene Cuellar, a researcher for Central America with Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
While Cuellar noted that human rights activists have shown “remarkable resilience” and often continue their work from outside the country, she noted that peaceful protests within Nicaragua “have become dangerous and almost impossible to exercise without facing severe consequences”.
The Ortega administration has also lashed out at other governments for making statements critical of its human rights record. On Tuesday, for instance, the European Union marked the fifth anniversary of the 2018 protests by denouncing the “systemic repression” of dissident voices in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua’s government responded by announcing it would reverse its approval of the European Union’s ambassador to the country. It also criticised the EU as “interventionist, daring and insolent”.
Ortega first ascended to the presidency in 2007, but has been a central figure in Nicaraguan politics for decades. He was a leader of the leftist Sandinista rebel group, which overthrew the US-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
However, Ortega is now accused of many of the same crimes committed by Somoza: torture, enforced disappearances, and the elimination of political rivals.
Last year, a former Sandinista leader and would-be presidential candidate named Hugo Torres died in prison at the age of 73 after being arrested along with several opposition politicians.
In their earlier days as rebels fighting the Somoza government, Torres had once led a daring raid to free Ortega from prison.