Nicaraguan opposition activists held as crackdown intensifies

University leader Lesther Aleman speaks at a press conference at the headquarters of the Citizens for Freedom (CXL) party, in Managua, Nicaragua, 09 June 2021

Student leader Lésther Alemán played a key role in the 2018 anti-government protests

Police in Nicaragua have arrested two student activists and four members of the Farmers’ Movement in its latest crackdown on the opposition.

Among those arrested on Monday night was Medardo Mairena, who was planning to run for the Nicaraguan presidency.

His arrest brings the number of presidential hopefuls detained since the beginning of June to six.

President Daniel Ortega is expected to stand for a fourth consecutive term in the presidential election in November.

Police have not yet said on what grounds or charges the activists were detained on Monday.

Student group Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN) said two of its leaders, Lésther Alemán and Max Jerez, had been detained.

Max Jerez tweeted as the police were entering the house where he was staying, saying that “neither repression nor jail will stop the strength of the Nicaraguan people”.

The AUN later uploaded a video Mr Jerez had recorded before his arrest in which he told Nicaraguans “not to despair or become paralysed”.

Students were at the forefront of anti-government protests which rocked Nicaragua in 2018 and student leaders have remained vocal critics of the government led by President Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo.

In his video, Mr Jerez encouraged Nicaraguans to “carry on together to defeat the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo”.

‘Not a traitor’

Fellow student activist Lésther Alemán also appeared in a defiant video in which he said he was prepared to go to jail and even to die for his cause.

In a reference to the controversial treason law under which more than a dozen influential opposition figures have been arrested, he stressed: “I’m not a traitor to my country, I have never done anything against Nicaraguans.”

Under the law, which was passed in December by pro-government lawmakers, anyone designated a traitor can be sent to prison for 15 years.

The government argues the law protects Nicaragua from “coup-mongers” financed by “imperial powers” aiming to overthrow President Ortega.

But its critics say the government is using it as a tool to target anyone who may stand against him in the election as anyone deemed a traitor is banned from running for political office.

farmers' Movement leaders Medardo Mairena, Pedro Mena and Freddy Navas celebrate after being released on 11 June, 2019 in Managua

Medardo Mairena (left), Pedro Mena (centre) and Freddy Navas (right) as well as Pablo Morales were arrested Monday

With the arrest of Medardo Mairena, there are now six presidential hopefuls in custody:

  • Medardo Mairena, Farmers’ Movement leader

  • Miguel Mora, opposition journalist

  • Juan Sebastián Chamorro, economist

  • Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of ex-President Violeta Chamorro

  • Arturo Cruz, former ambassador

As well as Mr Mairena, three more members of the Farmers’ Movement were detained on Monday.

Like the student activists, members of the Farmers’ Movement were among those targeted during the anti-government protests in 2018.

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