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Ortega sets the trials of political prisoners in motion

Dora María Tellez, Ana Margarita Vijil, Yader Parajón, Yaser Vado, Miguel Mendoza and Jose Antonio Peraza will be prosecuted for alleged conspiracy

The Ortega regime has suddenly “unblocked” political trials against women prisoners of conscience and opposition leaders, Dora Maria Tellez and Ana Margarita Vijil, and political prisoners Yader Parajon and Yaser Vado, accusing them of alleged “conspiracy to undermine national integrity to the detriment of the State of Nicaragua and Nicaraguan society” and other crimes fabricated by the Public Ministry, controlled by the ruling Sandinista Front. 

On the morning of January 26, the scheduling of the political trial against sports commentator and blogger Miguel Mendoza, and later that of political scientist and former president of “Movimiento por Nicaragua,” Jose Antonio Peraza, both for the same alleged crime of “conspiracy,” were also announced.

According to their respective notification slips, the trials will be held next week in the El Chipote jail complex itself where these four and more than thirty political prisoners have been incarcerated since mid-2021. The prisoners have been subjected to permanent interrogations and physical and psychological torture.

The resumption of the political trial against Ana Margarita Vigil, former president of UNAMOS, will be held on Wednesday, February 2, at 8:30 a.m. Meanwhile, the trial against the guerrilla commander, historian, and leader of the opposition Union Democratica Renovadora (UNAMOS, formerly MRS), will take place on Thursday, February 3, also at 8:30 in the morning, where their initial and preliminary hearings were also held behind closed doors.

Tellez and Vijil were arrested on June 13, during the round up of the leaders of UNAMOS, which included the arrest of retired brigadier general and guerrilla commander, Hugo Torrez; former deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Victor Hugo Tinoco and the current president of UNAMOS, Suyen Barahona.

In addition, the regime scheduled for February 1st at 8:30 a.m. the trials against Yader Parajon, brother of Jimmy Parajon, murdered in May 2018, and against Yaser Vado Gonzalez, a university student expelled from UNAN-Managua, also a member of UNAMOS and of the opposition Blue and White National Unity, reported the digital news platform Despacho 505.

Parajon was arrested in September 2021, near the border with Honduras, and Vado was detained more than two months later, in November. However, both were included in a single court case, which includes “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.” Additionally, Vado is also accused of “propagation of fake news” through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

The trial against Miguel Mendoza is scheduled for February 8, at 8:30 a.m., at the El Chipote prison. This week, his brother Ramon Mendoza, confirmed that the sports commentator and blogger was moved to a punishment cell and that his health continues to deteriorate. The trial against Peraza was scheduled for February 9th.

Political trials frozen for months without motives

In October 2021, the judges in the cases of political prisoners jailed at El Chipote, suspended their political trials indefinitely, citing “work overwork” or “reasons of force majeure” which were not detailed.

Lawyers and national and international human rights defenders interpreted the excuse as a strategy of the Ortega regime to “freeze” the trials on the eve of the presidential elections in which he reelected himself for a fourth consecutive presidential term. The vote was widely considered an “electoral farce” and declared illegitimate by the opposition and much of the international community.

Furthermore, legal analysts noted that the objective of prolonging these political trials was to use the political prisoners as “bargaining chips” in Ortega’s purported future negotiations.

The paralyzing of the trials of the political prisoners violates the constitutional principle to a speedy judicial process to which all Nicaraguans are entitled, in addition to articles 134 and 135 of the Criminal Procedural Code (CPP), and article 40 of Law 735 or of Prevention, Investigation and Prosecution of Organized Crime and Administration of Seized, Confiscated and Abandoned Goods.

The regime and its judges have also violated article 2 of the Criminal Procedural Code that establishes the presumption of innocence, stating that “any person charged with a crime shall be presumed innocent and shall be treated as such at all times during the process, until their guilt is declared by a final judgement issued in accordance with the law,” and reiterating it in article 178 of the same Code. However, Ortega’s propaganda machine has always condemned the more than 160 political prisoners, among them the more than 60 detained between May and November 2021.

Furthermore, Ortega himself has publicly referred to them as “terrorists” and “traitors to the homeland” and last November 8, in a celebration in which he proclaimed himself reelected, he directed his most virulent speech against the political prisoners, calling them “sons of bitches of imperialism,” which he has continued repeating in each of his few public appearances.

A survey by the CID Gallup firm, conducted in December 2021 and sponsored by Confidencial, revealed that 67% of the population demands the annulment of the political trials and more than 73% consider that all political prisoners should be released.

Among the 39 political prisoners detained between May 28 and October 21 (among them four under house arrest), 29 are charged for alleged conspiracy to undermine national sovereignty; another seven others are accused of money laundering and other crimes; two are investigated for violations to the “Sovereignty Law” and one for abusive management and improper approval and retention.

What about the other political trials?

Although on January 25 it transpired that the regime unblocked the political processes against four prisoners of conscience, the rest of the trials are still “frozen,” as confirmed to Confidencial by three lawyers defending political prisoners who spoke on condition of not being identified for fear of reprisals.

However, one of them did not rule out that the political trials could be unblocked following the seven-year sentence against opposition member Donald Margarito Alvarenga, handed down on January 13, for supposedly violating the Special Law on Cyber Crimes or “Gag Law” and the “Sovereignty Law.”

Lawyer Juan Diego Barberena explained to Confidencial that the Criminal Procedural Code does not compel the judge to resume the trial within a certain period of time, after the argument of being suspended due to “reasons of force majeure.”

Nevertheless, he criticized that “the judicial authority is granted a broad power of discretion that, in the end, infringes fundamental guarantees and the rules of due process of the accused.”

According to article 135 of the Code, the cases of political prisoners are of “complex processing.” This means that the trials could last up to 12 months, counting from the first hearing which, in most cases, was held in the first week of September, when some of the prisoners completed 90 days of arrest, a term which was originally 48 hours, but which the regime reformed to extend it at its convenience.

Another specialist consulted by Confidencial at the end of October 2021, also explained that the “freezing” of the trial stopped the counting of the criminal process, facilitating that the term established by the law for the cases of complex processing does not expire.

“What they are doing is not only giving them the status of complex processing to hold them in pre-trial up to twelve months, but they are leaving this same term in suspension and put off the beginning of the counting of days to keep the detained person longer without holding a trial,” the lawyer emphasized.

Tellez’s case: substitute defense counsel must be appointed

In the notification of the political trial against Dora Maria Tellez, the Prosecutor’s Office warned that a substitute defense lawyer of the defendant’s choice and preference should be appointed, according to what is established in article 108 of the CPP and, in case he/she does not comply, a public defender will be appointed.

The national legislation contemplates that the attorney will have a substitute to intervene when the proprietor has “a temporary impediment and has previously informed the judge or court.” However, this appointment is not mandatory, as suggested by the trial notice. Attorney Barberena confirmed that the Ortega Prosecutor’s Office seeks to appoint a “substitute defense counsel” who, being a public defender, would adhere to the interests of the Prosecutor’s Office and not to the defense of the political prisoner.

Barberena further noted that the political prisoners have even been prevented from meeting or speaking with their defense lawyers.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

https://mailchi.mp/confidencial.com.ni/englishnewsletterform


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