Critics accuse President Daniel Ortega of repressing opponents ahead of elections scheduled for later this year.
Leading opposition leaders have been arrested in Nicaragua as concerns grow over what observers have described as a crackdown on President Daniel Ortega’s opponents ahead of elections scheduled for later this year.
Police on Sunday arrested Ortega critic Suyen Barahona, leader of left-wing opposition Unamos, after police arrested three other party officials over the weekend.
Barahona is among nearly a dozen opposition leaders, as well as presidential candidates who have been this month arrested or incapacitated to enter the presidential contest, which will be held in November.
“They are no longer just potential candidates, but political leaders,” said former Sandinista dissident general Hugo Torres. “This is not a transition to dictatorship, it is a dictatorship in every sense.”
The crackdown began on June 2 when police stormed the house of Cristiana Chamorro, journalist and presidential candidate, accused of money laundering shortly after announcing her intention to run in the elections.
There have been at least 11 political leaders detained, while journalists have also been questioned by authorities in recent weeks.
Ortega’s loyalists argue that the authorities only enforce the law.
Under legislation passed in December, the Ortega government has the power to unilaterally declare citizens “terrorists” or coup plotters, classify them as “traitors to the homeland,” and ban them from running as candidates.
The law punishes those “who lead or finance a coup … encourage foreign interference, call for military intervention … propose or plan economic blockades, applaud and defend the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua or its citizens.”
But observers have accused Ortega, who has not yet confirmed his intention to seek re-election for a fourth consecutive term, of trying to remove any rivals.
On Sunday, Nicaraguan police said Barahona was arrested for trying to undermine the country’s independence and sovereignty, as well as for “inciting foreign interference in internal affairs, calling for military intervention and organizing with foreign funding.”
Unamos attacked the latest raids and arrests. “These actions against the leadership of Unamos are part of the escalation of the repression of the Ortega regime against the democratic opposition,” the party said in a statement.
Last week, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Guterres had called on the Nicaraguan authorities to fully respect their international human rights obligations and release political leaders.
“These events can seriously undermine public confidence in the democratic process ahead of the November general election,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price also said Ortega “is becoming an international outcast” and was moving away from Nicaragua “further away from democracy.”
The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against four Nicaraguan officials who support Ortega, including the president’s daughter, accusing them of undermining democracy and abusing human rights.
“President Ortega’s actions are hurting Nicaraguans and leading the country to tyranny,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.