Sexual aggression in the La Esperanza prison for women
Nicaragua: Merchant Leader Irlanda Jerez says “You Can’t Silence People with Bullets”
Politically outspoken leader of the market venders can’t return home following her release from prison, as it was sacked and occupied the night.
Merchant Irlanda Jerez spent 329 days as a prisoner of the Ortega-Murillo regime. During that time, she was interrogated nude, beaten, tortured and groped by an official of the La Esperanza prison. She was released on Tuesday, June 11, but she was unable to return to her home in Managua because hours previously it had been sacked and occupied by the Ortega-allied paramilitary.
Jerez gained notoriety during the 2018 protests when she led a movement of self-organized citizens within Managua’s sprawling Oriental Market and called for civil disobedience as a form of protest against the Ortega regime. She was illegally detained on July 18, 2018, accused with no proof of the crimes of fraud and false contracts.
“In El Chipote [the infamous interrogation jail] I was drugged and interrogated nude. They wanted me to tape some videos where I retracted the call for civil disobedience,” stated Jerez, who was a practicing dentist before entering the business world. Jerez spoke Wednesday evening, June 12, during an interview on the news program Esta Noche which is transmitted via YouTube.
“In La Esperanza [prison for women], I was physically beaten on at least seven occasions. I received direct threats: “We want you. You’re the little gutsy one, the one who directs it all. The prison is on the verge of rising up because of you,” Jerez recounted them saying. She also stated sadly that her two daughters have had to leave the country due to the persecution and harassment from government sympathizers and officials.
Harassment and fondling
“I also suffered sexual harassment and fondling on the part of one of the prison’s female employees,” affirmed the released political prisoner. “They stripped us and forced us to do sit-ups. When I was naked, on several occasions alone, this guard wanted to touch my totally naked body. I began to forcefully resist and she said, in the most vulgar language, that she ‘could put her finger in my vagina or in my anus, wherever she wanted,’” recounted Jerez.
Jerez denounced this situation to the penal authorities at La Esperanza, as well as to Kenny Bell, the EU ambassador to Nicaragua, and to a group of deputies from the European Parliament who visited the women’s prison last January
Beatings by guards
The dentist noted that she and all the other political prisoners had “been afraid for their lives” although they also know that they’re “struggling” for a “cause greater that life itself: liberty for Nicaragua”.
“We’re ready to pay any price necessary to free Nicaragua,” she added.
She explained that the beatings in La Esperanza involved both male and female guards, plus hooded paramilitary with dogs and weapons. “They used everything, even throwing rocks.”
The merchant emphasized that only one of the last beatings, on May 17 of this year, involved a “small group of common prisoners”.
Rejects the self-amnesty
Jerez and another fifty-five political prisoners were freed this Tuesday, under a blanket self-amnesty that the regime urgently approved on June 8th.
“I roundly reject this self-amnesty that the government is giving itself. The whole world knows that this is a genocidal government that has pardoned itself for all the crimes it committed against us, the population,” she declared.
Ortega-allied deputies have warned that if the released political prisoners participate in demonstrations they’ll be sent back to jail. With respect to this, the Jerez noted that “we advise the Sandinista leaders to remember that Nicaragua belongs to all of us, and that the only flag we have is the blue and white one.”
“We invite (the Sandinista leaders) to join in a parliamentary disobedience, a police disobedience and a massive national disobedience aimed against Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo,” she stated.
Her home occupied
Jerez couldn’t go home, since it was searched, looted and occupied by a group of Ortega-allied paramilitary, who also beat her husband, Daniel Esquivel Artola, and a worker at the house, while they awaited Irlanda’s arrival.
“Over by the Central America neighborhood public school, we encountered a group of people, among them my husband, who yelled at me that I couldn’t go home because at that moment it had been taken over by paramilitary, police and civilians. They completely looted the house and at this very moment it’s being occupied,” she detailed.
Irlanda was dropped off near her house. Even in those circumstances, she asserted: “this government knows that they’re not going to be able to break my warrior spirit.” Jerez was then taken to the Managua cathedral and later moved to another place of safety.
Her husband told Confidencial that he had bruises on his neck and face, but what mattered most to him was his wife’s safety. Given that priority, they haven’t decided yet where they’ll establish themselves.
The confiscation of Jerez’ home is one of many illegal abuses perpetrated against the small business owner. “Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are cowards. They’ve brutalized me and all my family: my daughters are in exile; there’s an arrest warrant out on my father; my businesses have been confiscated, looted, the stalls and installations burnt,” she denounced.
“Today, June 11, supposedly the day of my liberation, my property, the home I’ve lived in for over 12 years, has been confiscated. Speaking clearly, it’s been stolen by these delinquents,” she added.
Jerez doesn’t consider herself a political leader, but “one of the self-organized, and a woman who speaks in the voice of her suffering people.” “The worst they can do is kill us, and how many have they killed over 40 years?” the businesswoman wonders, before asserting: “you can’t silence the people with bullets”.
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