Press release November 8, 2021
Nicaragua: Ortega Regime Should Hold Free and Fair Elections and Reopen Civic Space for All
The international community is right to object to electoral results stemming from a fraudulent electoral process and a campaign of repression.
Freedom House issued the following statement in response to the results of the Nicaraguan election, which was plagued by systemic flaws, the closure of civic space, and lack of political freedom:
“We reject the Nicaraguan government’s assault on democracy, given that President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo held the election after imprisoning and blocking opposition candidates from competing. We join the international community’s rejection of the anticipated electoral outcome. We are concerned about the democratic backsliding and human rights violations committed by the Ortega regime. This should have been a day for Nicaraguans to celebrate democracy. Instead, Ortega has shown his animus for his people’s desires by holding opposition candidates and over 149 political prisoners in custody for exercising their democratic rights,” said Gerardo Berthin, director of Latin America and Caribbean Programs at Freedom House.
“The result of the election will not be a surprise, as the entire process was organized around Ortega’s predetermined win. It is the culmination of a systematic campaign of repression, marked by the detention of opposition candidates, the banning of civil society organizations, and the suppression of the country’s independent press. The government began dismantling democratic institutions before its violent crackdown in April 2018, removing the checks and balances that allow for a free and fair election. To that end, it did not permit impartial international observers, leaving electoral monitoring to politicians connected to the ruling Sandinistas and the regime’s international allies.
“Freedom House calls on the Nicaraguan government to release the political prisoners currently detained and hold new elections once the accusations against them are nullified. Moreover, we call on the international community to use all the tools at its disposal to hold the government accountable and restore democracy.”
In April 2018, in response to Ortega regime’s social security reforms that increased taxes and decreased benefits, there were widespread peaceful protests, led by the elderly, students, and civil society members. The Ortega regime responded with a violent campaign of repression, killing more than 300 people, some shot by government snipers on rooftops.
Between October 2020 and February 2021, the government gazetted a law on foreign agents, the Special Law on Cybercrimes, a "sovereignty and self-determination" law, and criminal-code amendments, which were all designed to restrict political participation, freedom of expression, and movement ahead of these flawed elections.
Since May, the government has arbitrarily detained dozens of civil society leaders and seven potential presidential candidates without due process, concocting false charges—including treason—against the candidates to remove them from contention. The government has also violated the free speech rights of its citizens by criminalizing the work of journalists, civil society organizations, and artists, among others. Furthermore, the foreign agents law has been used to imprison and falsely accuse Nicaraguans of criminality for exercising their political rights.
In July and August, the registration of 45 CSOs was canceled via the foreign agents law. Fear has permeated through civil society, prompting ordinary Nicaraguans to avoid public demonstrations and express their opinions only in private. Government supporters intimidate the population by accusing nonvoters of treason. This fear extends to the relatives of detainees whose passports are confiscated, violating the right to free movement.
The political crisis has prompted massive displacement, with large numbers of Nicaraguans fleeing their country for the United States and Costa Rica after the campaign of repression accelerated in May. Popular opinion of Ortega is low, with a recent poll by CID-Gallup finding that any of the seven imprisoned candidates would easily defeat him: 65 percent of respondents said they would vote for any opposition candidate over Ortega.
The Ortega regime has also mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic by disregarding basic health guidelines and convening public meetings without proper social distancing practices. Nearly 8,000 Nicaraguans have resorted to traveling to Honduras to receive COVID-19 vaccines in recent weeks. The government’s pandemic management has been simultaneously irresponsible and repressive; many doctors and journalists, for example, have been forced into exile after suffering threats and harassment for questioning the official response to COVID-19.
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