Nicaragua on Friday released 50 political opposition prisoners held during nationwide protests against President Daniel Ortega, bringing the number freed since late February to about 200, two days after the end of talks aimed at resolving a deadly year-long political crisis.
However charges were not dropped. The prisoners were released into house arrest and continue bieing accused of “disrupting the public order and attacking the peace in Nicaragua.”
The house arrest falls short of the unrestricted freedom that the opposition Civic Alliance coalition has demanded in negotiations with government representatives.
“Being at home I feel free,” said freed student protester Franklin Rodrigo Artola García. “I feel happy to be with my mother, with my father, all my family. … And I am going to remain in the fight because Nicaragua must be free and it has to be one hundred percent pure, zero corruption, zero murderers.”
Luís Alvarado, alternative representative from Nicaragua to the Organization of American States (OAS), said the prisoner releases are “proof of the commitment of the state and government of Nicaragua with the agreements reached so far” in the talks.
Friday’s released caught both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the opposition by surprise.
“The ICRC is not involved in the liberation … announced today,” said Alberto Cabezas, a Mexico-based spokesman for the organization.
According to a list provided by the Interior Ministry, those freed include students, farmworkers and professionals arrested for taking part in the protests, which erupted last April over social security reforms and broadened to demand Ortega and his wife and First Lady, Rosario Murillo, leave office before the presidential elections in 2021.
However, Ortega and Murillo have refused to step down and cranked up their oppression against protesters and had refused to talks after the failed attempt last May.
Threatened by sactions from the United States and the European Union, Ortega on March 20
pledged to release all political prisoners within 90 days.
The opposition says more than 800 people were jailed during a brutal crackdown on protests against Ortega’s rule which began last April. The government admits to only 350 detained.
On Friday, police announced that an opposition march called for Saturday (today) would not be authorized. The government imposed a ban last year against all anti-government demonstrations, though some smaller ones have been seen recently since the talks began.
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at least 325 people died in the unrest, 2,000 more were wounded and at least 52,000 fled the country for exile.