MEXICO CITY (AP) — The wife of Nicaraguan political activist Félix Maradiaga told reporters her husband had lost more than 65 pounds during his year in prison and that she feared for his health.
A day later, the government of President Daniel Ortega brought the former presidential candidate before the cameras for a rare and previously unscheduled hearing to ratify the 13-year prison sentence he had already received earlier this year.
The fact that a pro-government media outlet was invited, but not Maradiaga’s family—or lawyers—showed the government’s intention to defy international condemnation of its extensive crackdown on dissidents. Footage from the weekend appearance showed Maradiaga looking thin, but he appeared to walk and talk without difficulty.
Maradiaga had not been seen publicly since his arrest in June 2021, one of nearly 190 people who are considered political prisoners by human rights groups and the US State Department, including six others who may have challenged Ortega. for the presidency in the November elections. . None of them had been seen in pictures or videos since his arrest until Maradiaga’s brief appearance in court on Saturday.
“The government put on a show, a scene of public torture broadcast live to the people” with the aim of instilling more fear, said Wilma Núñez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. She herself is a former political prisoner under the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship, whom Ortega helped oust from office in 1979.
The United States and the European Union have called for the release of the prisoners and denounced Ortega’s electoral victory in November as a farce. They have imposed sanctions on members of her family and inner circle, but her government has continued to make arrests while expelling the independent press and non-governmental groups from the country, most recently last week nuns from the charity established by Mother Teresa.
Jared Genser, a US-based law professor and prominent human rights attorney who represents Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro, said at an online press conference Thursday with Maradiaga’s wife and relatives of other prisoners that the situation of political prisoners in Nicaragua is one of the worst it has had. he has seen during his career.
Maradiaga’s wife, Berta Valle, told the conference that her husband and others are being held in unsanitary cells, poorly fed and deprived of medical care for chronic illnesses. They are not given reading material or allowed to visit with their children, she said.
“Our relatives feel that they are doing damage to their health that may be irreversible,” Valle said. She herself fled to the United States and two brothers have informed him of her condition and have been able to visit him on occasion.
Núñez said that among the most worrying aspects for the family is the lack of communication. She said “information limbo” creates “desperation and anguish.”
Valle said she didn’t know about Saturday’s hearing for her husband before seeing a video. And she said last week that she didn’t even know that her husband had gone on a hunger strike a week earlier to protest the conditions of his imprisonment.
Maradiaga was convicted of harming national integrity, a charge that was also applied to many other dissidents. He denies the accusation.
After Saturday’s court appearance, a reporter from a government-allied media outlet held up a microphone to Maradiaga and asked why she was “lying” about her health. Maradiaga was confused by the question and unaware that outside the prison there was a public debate about his well-being.
He replied that he was being held in total isolation and subject to a political trial.
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