NICARAGUAN AUTHORITIES MAY BE ABUSING LEGAL PROCESSES TO INTIMIDATE OPPOSITION LEADERS IN JALAPA NUEVA SEGOVA
Last week attorneys with the Global Rule of Law and Liberty Legal Defense Fund (Fund) were contacted by Nicaraguan attorneys and civil society leaders about an incident of violence associated with local elections in the municipality of Jalapa of Nueva Segovia. You can read about the matter here.
According to local leaders who contacted the Fund, authorities are using the color of law “as a weapon to intimidate residents and finish consummating fraud in the recent municipal elections.”
Mr. Nelson Cortez, attorney for three of the ten civil society leaders being unlawfully detained or pursued by Nicaraguan officials issued a statement after judicial proceedings were allegedly postponed because of a power failure.
Fund Attorneys will continue to monitor the situation as well as support. Mr. Cortez and other members of the defense team. Mr. Cortez’s video statement is embedded below:
The following is a Thanksgiving Day message to his family, friends, and other supporters from Mr. Nizar Zakka, a hostage being held in Iran’s Evin Prison:
Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends and the American people for their support, without their support I would have never been able to survive this mental torture that is being inflicted on me by these terrorists that have kidnapped and took me hostage for almost 800 days now, and has kept me away from my family on this special day.
(Alexandria, Virginia) After last week’s municipal elections in Nicaragua, Global Rule of Law and Liberty Legal Defend Fund (Fund) attorneys and fellow lawyers in Nicaragua are concerned for the safety and well-being of opposition leaders.
In a report by a team of 60 electoral experts and other Organization of American States, Electoral Observation Mission (OAS/EOM) officials are recommending “comprehensive electoral reform” in Nicaragua. At the crux of the problem? They say what is needed is a “permanent judicial and administrative framework that gives more confidence and security to political forces.” In other words, lack of rule of law and independent institutions.
In Nicaragua since October 9, the OAS/EOM team spent several weeks meeting with government officials and civil society leaders leading up to the November 5th municipal elections. On election day OAS/EOM observers were positioned in 15 departments (states) and two autonomous regions, visiting 787 polling centers and in 393 voting centers. The preliminary OAS/EOM report is available here.
Election day appears to have been mostly uneventful, however, the OAS/EOM team reported that “once the voting ended, a series of isolated incidents of violence occurred that resulted in the deaths of five people and several injured.” Attorneys with the Global Rule of Law and Liberty Legal Defense Fund (Fund) were contacted by Nicaraguan attorneys and civil society leaders about such an incident in the state of Nueva Segovia.
The alleged incident took place in the municipality of Jalapa of Nueva Segovia. For readers who are not familiar with Nicaragua, this area is known for some of the best cigars in the world. They are produced in an area that was once a conflict zone during the Cold War. According to local leaders who contacted the Fund, authorities are using the color of law “as a weapon to intimidate residents and finish consummating fraud in the recent municipal elections.”
“We will continue to support attorneys in Nicaragua who are bravely defending wrongfully persecuted person,” Fund attorney Jason Poblete said. “Colleagues in Nicaragua have advised us that an opposition candidate has been forced to flee the country because because, in part, he was going to be thrown in jail without due process. If true, this matter is following a familiar and disturbing pattern that even includes abuse of INTERPOL systems in order to silence the opposition and, indeed, anyone who expresses different points of view from certain sectors of the ruling elite,” added Poblete.
Mr. Nelson Cortez, attorney for three of the ten civil society leaders being unlawfully detained by Nicaraguan officials, said that “[t]he judicial process has been manipulated by political interest, subtracting the accused from their natural judge (Jalapa), and transferring them to exceptional jurisdiction to Ocotal, that is illegal and unconstitutional, and is done for political reasons, which makes the accused political prisoners of the Sandinista regime.”
At the request of the persons who provided the Fund the following information about the alleged incidents in Jalapa, the report is posted anonymously to better ensure the safety of the various persons who helped prepare it. One of the opposition leaders involved in this matter was forced to flee Nicaragua because he was threatened by government officials.
According to Nicaraguan civil society leaders:
“This Wednesday, November 22nd, a judicial hearing will be held where the Public Ministry accuses thirteen citizens and supporters of the Citizens for Liberty Party (CxL), including the candidate for Mayor Ismael Gradiz who is fleeing, since he does not trust a partisan judicial system that accuses him as intellectual author of a riot even though he was not even found in the place of the protest. Of the thirteen accused, ten are detained and three are fleeing.
Fund attorneys and public policy professionals will continue to monitor this situation as well as support fellow lawyers in Nicaragua who are defending persons politically targeted by the FSLN. The Fund has been working on uncovering abuses of rule of law and electoral systems in places such as Nicaragua, particularly the matter of Roberto Bendaña-McEwan. Roberto was singled out by senior FSLN officials, including prosecutors and judges, for alleged civil and criminal actions that he was not a party to. His true “crime”? Demanding free and transparent elections. Learn more about this matter here.
In related news, a bill is winding its way through the U.S. Congress that will help Nicaraguan opposition and civil society leaders hold FSLN leaders accountable: The Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2017. Among other things, the NICA Act directs the President to instruct the U.S. Executive Director at international financial institution (IFIs) to use U.S. influence to oppose any loan for the government of Nicaragua’s benefit if various conditions are not met to help advance rule of law and curb human rights abuses, among other conditions. You can learn more about the NICA Act and related measures here.
According to a story in McClatchy News, Trump administration officials recently met with Venezuelan opposition members “to urge the White House to sanction Nicaragua and a company whose joint venture they say is helping to prop up the government in Caracas, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations.” Read more here.
If Venezuelan opposition leaders are pressing Trump administration officials to sanction Nicaragua, it marks the first time that Daniel Ortega has come under recent public scrutiny for meddling in politics outside of Nicaragua. Recent reports in Nicaraguan newspapers quote opposition leaders and local experts alleging that Nicaragua has been hiding money for the state-owned Venezuelan energy company PDVSA.
The issues in Nicaragua appear to stem from transactions involving Nicaraguan company partially owned by the Venezuelan government called ALBANISA S.A. According to one expert, close to $4.0 billion may have been held or laundered through that Venezuelan-owned company. Was the company set up, or used, to evade U.S. economic sanctions? Is there a Cuba or Russia connection?
The U.S. government has many tools at its disposal to address public corruption in countries such as Nicaragua, including economic sanctions, the Global Magnitsky Act, and other laws. The Congress is also considering the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2017. Among other things, the NICA directs the President to instruct the U.S. Executive Director at international financial institution (IFIs) to use U.S. influence to oppose any loan for the government of Nicaragua’s benefit if various conditions are not met to help advance rule of law and curb human rights abuses, among other conditions.
To learn more about the Fund’s work in Nicaragua, follow this link to read about a political persecution case by the Sandinistas of an American businessman, Mr. Roberto Bendaña McEwan. Roberto was falsely accused by Nicaragua’s Sandinista government of various crimes because he dared to call for free and transparent elections in Nicaragua including a clean up of the voter rolls in that country.
On or about January 2, 2014, Nicaragua abused the INTERPOL processes by requesting a Red Notice based on false charges. An INTERPOL Red Notice is a device that alerts law enforcement agencies around the world of an outstanding arrest warrant. You can read more about Roberto case by following this link.
Statement on the Continued Unlawful Detention of Internet Freedom Advocate & Hostage Nizar Zakka
The Senate today approved S.Res. 245, a bipartisan resolution calling on the Government of Iran to release unjustly detained United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens, and for other purposes.
On behalf of Mr. Nizar Zakka and his family, Mr. Zakka’s lawyer in the United States, Mr. Jason Poblete, issued the following statement:
“For the first time in years, the U.S. government sent a united and clear message to the Iranian regime that it will no longer tolerate using innocent people such as Nizar Zakka as political leverage. It’s time for responsible parties around the world to step up, follow America’s lead, and strongly urge Iran to release Nizar who remains very sick and who is being refused medical care.”
Last month, President Donald Trump announced a new approach for U.S. Iran policy highlighting, among other things, the unlawful detention of American citizens and U.S. Legal Permanent Residents such as Nizar Zakka. The administration has warned Iran of ‘dire consequences’ if they refuse to release unlawfully detained persons.
On July 26, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) calling for the unconditional release of United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens being held for political purposes by the Government of Iran. A similar resolution was approved in the Senate today, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
Senators Cruz and Leahy issued the following statement on the passage of their bipartisan resolution:
“For years the Iranian regime has brutally detained and imprisoned Americans and dual-nationals as a matter of policy, in an effort to leverage the freedom of our citizens for political concessions,” Sen. Cruz said. “We have a moral imperative to speak for the silenced and shackled, to hold those responsible in Iran to account for detaining and mistreating our people, and to fight for the release and return of those held hostage by the Islamic Republic of Iran. I am glad that today the Senate has voted in support of this vital measure. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure the United States safely brings our people back to American soil.”
Mr. Zakka traveled to Iran in September 2015, at the invitation of Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi, to speak at a conference on the use of technology and the Internet to promote social, economic, and educational development in the region. After the conference, en route to the airport, Mr. Zakka was taken by persons believed to be associated with the IRGC’s Basij or the intelligence services.
Mr. Zakka has been denied the right to review the charges or evidence against him and his lawyers have not been allowed to mount a proper defense. Despite the ordeal, including psychological and physical torture, Nizar has maintained his innocence.
More information about Mr. Zakka’s case can be found below.
Prior Statements and Releases