Nicaragua frees 222 political prisoners, now heading to US

Nicaragua has released 222 inmates, many of whom were considered to be political prisoners of longtime Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government, and they are on their way to the United States, a senior US official has said.

“Some of these individuals have spent years in prison, many of them for exercising their fundamental freedoms, in awful conditions and with no access to due process,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in a statement on Thursday.

The Nicaraguan government did not immediately confirm the release.

The New York Times reported that the US government sent a plane to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua to fly the freed prisoners to Washington, DC. The flight is expected to arrive around noon local time (17:00 GMT).

Ortega has maintained that his imprisoned opponents and others were behind 2018 protests that he says were part of a plot to overthrow him.

Tens of thousands of people have fled into exile – most notably to neighbouring Costa Rica – since Nicaraguan security forces cracked down on those anti-government demonstrations.

More recently, the US and European Union have accused Ortega of launching a fresh campaign of unjustified arrests in the lead-up to 2021 elections, as dozens of opposition leaders and presidential hopefuls were detained.

US President Joe Biden’s administration denounced the vote, which saw Ortega win a fourth consecutive term, as a “sham” – and Washington and its allies have heaped fresh sanctions on the government in Managua.

Many of those arrested have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, often on charges of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity”.

In June of last year, the United Nations’ then-human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said the situation in Nicaragua was deteriorating amid arbitrary detentions, harsh prison conditions, a lack of due process, increased state control over academic institutions and non-profit organisations, and curbs to freedom of association.

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