Confidencial

Nicaragua: Trial of Political Prisoners Continues Behind Closed Doors

Peasant leaders Medardo Mairena (l), Silvio Pineda (c) and Pedro Mena (r) are presented looking haggard, handcuffed and under a heavy police deployment. Photo: el19digital / Confidencial

The initial hearing in the trial of Medardo Mairena, Pedro Mena and Silvio Pineda, leaders of the Peasant Movement, accused of murdering four police officers—among other crimes—in Morrito, Rio San Juan, took place amid the rejection of thousands of Nicaraguans who marched in various cities to protest the illegal detentions and judicial process against opponents to the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

The Sixth Criminal District Judge, Henry Morales Olivares, did not allow the independent media to enter the hearing, nor did he authorize access to national or international human rights organizations. However, he did allow the government media to make videos, photographs, and get as much media resources as wanted.

Morales Olivares also did not allow the presence of members of the Special Follow-Up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) and the team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OACNUDH), who as they did on August 14, during the trial of Brandon Lovo and Glen Slate (accused of killing journalist Angel Gahona), waited without any luck for the authorization that would allow their entrance.

The judge opened the initial audience admitting all the charges presented for the crimes of murder, terrorism, organized crime, simple kidnapping, and obstruction of public services to the detriment of Nicaraguan society.

Julio Montenegro, the defense lawyer of Mairena, Mena and Pineda, filed an exception and an incident, and also requested a legal medical evaluation of the detainees, because he received information that the peasant leaders were being tortured in La Modelo penitentiary system in Managua.

The trial hearing is scheduled for October first, confirmed the lawyer Montenegro.

Oral and “public” trial of Brandon and Glen began

On August 14, the oral and “public” trial against Brandon Lovo and Glen Slate began, with them being accused of killing journalist Angel Gahona. As happened in the process against the peasant leaders, the IAHRC, representatives of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh), independent media and relatives of the accused, were denied access to the trial by the Sixth Criminal District Judge, Ernesto Rodriguez.

“We understand that it is a public hearing and therefore there should not be any difficulty to enter” stated Denise Cook, coordinator of Meseni, on behalf of the IAHRC.

“The trial began at ten in the morning, and ended 12 hours later, with only a two-hour break at two in the afternoon. The Prosecutor’s Office (Public Ministry) accused both young men of Gahona’s death, despite the fact that witnesses, neighbors and relatives of the victim, insisted that the person responsible was a policeman who was inside the municipal Mayor’s Office, and not the two boys.

At the preliminary hearing, the Prosecutor did not ask for the exclusion of evidence. However, when the defense of the young men asked for exclusion, alleging illegality and impertinence, the judge justified each one, and it seemed as if “the judge was one more of the prosecution´s team”, according to Amy García, lawyer for both young men.

Garcia Curtis declared to Confidencial that the process against her clients was flawed. She explained that although the evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office lacked any veracity and logic, the judge admitted them without reservation.

The Prosecutor’s Office presented a report detailing that the shot that killed Gahona came from a handmade gun. In this regard, Garcia Curtis stated that according to a ballistic expert consulted, who was not allowed in court to refute this version, a handmade gun has neither the precision nor the reach to kill a person, and much less at a distance of one hundred meters.

“If a patented weapon has the possibility of being lethal when it reaches thirty meters, in this case a handmade gun is too far away to cause any damage,” said the lawyer.

One of the witnesses, Adolfo Morales Vanegas, pointed to Lovo as one of the young people wounded on the night of Gahona’s death, but according to an official journalist, named Maria Victoria, said was to blame for the death of Gahona.

Francisco Bravo, also a witness for the Prosecutor, and who was the driver of a police patrol that night, stated that when he was transporting one of the officers allegedly wounded that night, he also heard how Maria Victoria “told some of the boys that, if they had not fired, Gahona would not have died.”

Garcia Curtis presented the manipulation by the Prosecutor’s Office in the presentation of witnesses who clearly “have a script” prepared to point out the accused as culprits. She explained that Maria Victoria pointed directly to Lovo, but shouted at many young people that witnessed the events on that night.

“She did not accuse him. She told that to various boys. The witness says that he recognized who was accused by her and pointed to the wounded. Of course the wounded is my client, someone who was subject to a media campaign to blame him,” explains the lawyer.

The lawyer also denounced the threats she has suffered from people who called her and sent written text messages, so that she would desist from defending both young men. The last communication was made prior to the start of the oral hearing. It was a direct threat.

“Lawyer, you may appear and remain in the networks, but not always in life, remember that it is borrowed time,” stated the message received by the lawyer. She asserted that she will not back down in her struggle and will go up to the final consequences to defend Lovo and Slate.

The trial of both youngsters will continue on August 16. The process of presenting witnesses and evidences are in the camp of the Prosecutor. Afterwards, it will be the turn of the defense.

They do not want to be exposed
According to Gonzalo Carrion, Legal Director of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the fact that the judicial branch continues to deny access to trials to human rights defenders and independent media reveals that they have a lot to hide and are afraid of that in the presence of the media, the accused could be encouraged to take the floor, which is a right they have, and denounce any type of abuse or violation of their human rights.

“They are only presented in front of their media, not because it shows that is an open and public hearing. The mistreatment, as can be seen with Medardo, could move any journalist to possibly ask a question to the defendant and they do not want to run the risk that the accused says that he has been subjected to torture,” said Carrion.

The Legal Director of CENIDH, recalled the case of the July 19th massacre a few years ago, in which one of the sentenced to more than 100 years, pointed out and denounced his torturer. Carrion expressed that besides being able to register something like that, independent media, which are not the like the regime’s sheep (official media), could also see the farce of the trial and the inconsistency in the content of the accusation.

“Independent media have information on how the events actually happened. They could even ruin the farce and lie of the processes. That is why the judicial branch has a lot to hide,” insisted Carrion.

The legal director of Cenidh, emphasized that the government has used this type of censorship for many years. This is the nature of the dictatorship. “All the cases involving political prisoners have been devoid of publicity. That is a contradiction in plain sight because the trials are supposedly oral and public and should have public hearings, and there is no reason to justify the absence of oversight,” he concluded.