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Nicaragua frees 50 more considered political prisoners

By GABRIELA SELSERJune 10, 2019

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua released 50 more people Monday considered by the opposition to be political prisoners, jailed for their role in anti-government protests during months of political upheaval last year.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the prisoners had been arrested for crimes against safety and public order and that authorities “continue preparing for the release” of others. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross observed the releases, it added.

One of those freed, Hansell Vásquez, said he felt “happy to have escaped that hell” but also “sad and worried because the country is more locked up than when we became prisoners.”

The Civic Alliance opposition group recently said 186 government opponents remained behind bars.

Lawyer Yonarqui Martínez, who defends some of the imprisoned government opponents, called for all to be released and for the cases against them to be dismissed.

The releases came two days after lawmakers passed an amnesty bill for crimes related to the largely student-led protests that erupted in April 2018 over a social security overhaul and broadened to include a demand for President Daniel Ortega’s exit from office and early elections.

Opposition leaders say the measure would forgive killings and other abuses by police and pro-government civilian militias during a crackdown on demonstrators in which at least 325 civilians were killed and more than 2,000 wounded.

The government says the amnesty seeks the “reconciliation of society.”

Tamara Zamora, the mother of Nicaraguan-Belgian student Amaya Coppens, said her daughter is now alone in her cell after another student was freed Monday.

“Amaya has been in prison nine months as of today,” Zamora said. “This is torture. They are killing us slowly.”

Journalists and students were among those released. Still in jail are farm leaders, a university official, former military members and several student protest leaders.

A delegation from the Inter American Press Association arrived in the country Sunday to press for the release of Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda, two news leaders at 100% Noticias who were arrested when the channel was shut down in December. They were not among those freed Monday.

For years Nicaragua has been receiving oil from ally Venezuela on preferential terms, a lifeline for the economy.

Nicaragua’s Central Bank revealed Friday that that aid fell 73.4%, from $102 million in 2017 to just $27.2 million last year.

Opposition leaders allege that nearly $5 billion in funds from Venezuelan cooperation has been handled outside of the government budget by a mixed state and private company, Alba de Nicaragua S.A.

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This story has been corrected to show that the two journalists were among those freed Monday.

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