Nicaragua has released 50 opposition prisoners under a controversial new law granting amnesty to protesters and police involved in last year”s deadly uprising against President Daniel Ortega.
The Interior Ministry announced the release of “50 people in compliance with the provisions of the Amnesty Law approved by the National Assembly” on Saturday.
The Central American country plunged into crisis in April 2018 after widespread opposition protests broke out, and a brutal crackdown over the next four months by Ortega”s troops left 325 dead, 800 in prison and thousands in exile.
While the new law calls for jailed dissidents to be released “immediately,” it also closes the door on investigating and punishing security forces involved in the deadly quashing of the protests.
The amnesty law was rejected by a coalition of more than 70 opposition groups as well as human rights organisations because it implies that no one is responsible for the deaths.
The law stipulates that those released must “refrain” from protesting again.
A statement by the ministry said it was preparing the release of more prisoners. It said that those freed on Monday had been held “for crimes against common security and public tranquility.” Among those freed on Monday were two of four youths sentenced to more than 20 years imprisonment for their alleged role in the murder of a relative of a top official close to Ortega. They had spent almost a year in prison.
Two journalists, who had been jailed for blocking a road during the protests, attacked the amnesty which facilitated their release Monday.
“We can expect no justice from this government,” said Hanssel Vasquez.
Marlon Powell, the other journalist released Monday, told AFP that he had protested the amnesty law inside the prison before his release, because “it favors criminals, arsonists, child murderers.” Authorities had threatened to cancel his release over the protest, he said.
Liliam Ruiz, leader of the Committee of Families of Political Prisoners, denounced the use of the amnesty to free the prisoners “because it means a pardon when there is nothing to be pardoned for, because they have committed no offense.” The government in February began the staggered release of prisoners into house arrest ahead of talks with the opposition. Monday”s releases brings the total number of prisoners freed to 436.
Peace talks between Ortega and opposition groups have stalled several times, notably due to Ortega”s rejection of a key demand that he resign and bring forward elections slated for 2021.