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Latin America & Caribbean

Bianca Jagger calls on Daniel Ortega to open Nicaragua's prisons to inspection

On the 42nd anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution that brought Ortega to power, the human rights advocate and actress, asked him to allow her access to the country's imprisoned political prisoners. (Leer en español)
21 Jul 2021 – 09:30 PM EDT
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A man hangs jerseys with pictures of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and other revolutionary leaders at Bolivar to Chavez Avenue on June 27, 2021 in Managua, Nicaragua. Crédito: Getty Images

British-Nicaraguan human rights defender Bianca Jagger called on Daniel Ortega to grant her access to the country’s jailed political prisoners, reviving memories of a similar jail visit she made 42 years ago, just days before the fall of former dictator Anastasio Somoza.

In early July 1979, the actress and wife of pop singer Mick Jagger, supported an appeal of the British Red Cross to assist the victims of the conflict in Nicaragua where the Somoza facing a revolution led by Ortega and the Sandinista Front for National Liberation. A video at the time shows her wearing a Red Cross uniform delivering food to the prisoners.

“I travelled to Managua on a fact-finding mission and requested the Somoza regime to be allowed to visit the prisons. Somoza reluctantly granted me access to those prisons where he kept many of his political enemies,” Jagger told a bipartisan congressional Human Rights Commission in Washington on Wednesday.

“I would like to appeal to Daniel Ortega to grant me and other members of human rights organizations access to his prisons now,” she added, during a virtual hearing on human rights violations in Nicaragua and the plight of political prisoners.

Jagger, who grew up in Nicaragua and is the founder of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, is one of many human rights defenders who are denouncing Ortega’s denial of access for lawyers, medical and humanitarian assistance, and family members to some 140 political prisoners rounded up since protests against his government broke out in 2018.

In a ruthless crackdown against his political opponents prior to elections later this year, Nicaraguan authorities have detained or placed under house arrest at least 27 opposition figures in the last month and currently hold more than 140 political prisoners, including Ortega’s leading rivals who plan to run against him. He's also having journalists and activists who are critical of his government arrested, prompting accusations that, 42 years ago overthrowing Somoza, he has turned into a dictator himself.

Human rights groups accuse the Ortega regime of violating international conventions on human rights, as well as legal protections for prisoners under the country’s constitution.

“Until now no one knows their exact whereabouts or their conditions,” said Jagger. With the exception of presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, who is under house arrest, “all we know about the others is that they were kidnapped and are being held hostage, some of them have serious health issues,” she added.

The congressional hearing also heard from the wives of two prisoners who confirmed that neither they nor their lawyers had been allowed any contact with their husbands since being detained in early June.

“We worry every day for his physical and mental well-being,” said Berta Valle, the wife of opposition leader Felix Maradiaga, holding back tears. “It’s very clear that Daniel Ortega will do anything he can to maintain his grip on power,” she added.

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Valle and Victoria Cárdenas, the wife of another opposition leader, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, are meeting in Washington with members of Congress to continue advocating for the release of their husbands and all 140 political prisoners in Nicaragua.

The National Police say the opposition leaders are being investigated for crimes under Nicaragua’s controversial Law No. 1055, or the Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, which grants the Ortega regime the power to accuse critics of treason without producing any evidence to support those claims.

Since their arrests, Maradiaga, Chamorro, and others have been brought before secret court hearings, without the presence of their lawyers, where judges approved 90-day periods of judicial detention while the investigations into spurious charges are carried out.

“Since there is no legal basis for their detention and they are extralegally disappeared, they are being exposed to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, which under the framework of international law constitutes a form of torture the longer it persists,” according to their U.S. lawyer, Jared Genser.

Noting the anniversary of the triumph on July 19, 1979 of the Sandinista Revolution, Jagger reminded the congressional panel that it “brought hope and joy to millions of people in Nicaragua and throughout the world, including me.”

She recalled how “we believed that the revolution was going to bring freedom, justice, and democracy, but that was not to be … Daniel Ortega betrayed the principles that inspired that revolution.”

Over the intervening years, and especially during the last 14 years he has been in power, Ortega has dismantled all legal and democratic institutions in Nicaragua, she said. “His objective is to perpetuate his power at any cost by establishing a new tyrannical dynasty. Ortega’s brutal and relentless repression are comparable or worse than Somoza’s,” she added.

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