Medardo Mairena is confined to “El Infiernillo” [Little Hell], a maximum-security prison within the penitentiary known as El Modelo in Tipitapa, near the capital. Pedro Mena and Silvio Pineda are also in this hellhole, political prisoners of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. The rural leaders are being accused of the assassination of four police officers in Morrito, Rio San Juan department, as well as of terrorism and other crimes. Pineda was accused of being an “accomplice” in the same case.
El Infiernillo is a dark place, prescribed for the most dangerous prisoners, replete with cockroaches, mosquitos, ticks, and scorpions. They all use the same concrete seat as a toilet, the stench is unbearable. The prisoners don’t get out either by day or by night. They’re guarded constantly, and they only see the sun when they’re being taken to the courthouse.
On August 15, Mairena, Mena and Pineda saw the daylight. No, they weren’t set free. They were taken for the second time to the court complex; this time for their initial hearing. That same day, on the streets, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans marched demanding the freeing of the three farmers, and of the rest of the political prisoners. However, the enthusiasm remained there, in the roundabouts, because in the courtroom, the faces were different.
The three farmers went into the courtroom at 10 in the morning, presided over by Judge Henry Morales Olivares. Despite being in front of the judicial authority, they remained handcuffed. “It’s their obligation to take the handcuffs off, because remaining like that is mistreatment. All prisoners have the right to that level of respect,” affirmed Julio Montenegro, the lawyer for Mairena, Mena and Pineda.
Montenegro said that before entering the room for the initial hearing, he had to overcome a number of obstacles, among them to wait more than the usual time to be allowed to be with his clients.
“What was the circumstance that we encountered? Protective tapes for “crime scenes” covering the entrances on both sides, where the workers at the Courthouse pass – since it was restricted – and I had to go under the bands,” the lawyer stated.
Upon opening the door, Montenegro noted some ten to fifteen heavily armed prison guards. He asked why there were so many people with arms if the accused were handcuffed. “There’s no logic. This is in effect an element of intimidation for people.” He felt.
Medardo’s smile hasn’t returned since last July thirteenth, when the authorities of the Ortega Government captured him at the Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport. He now has a sad, almost lost look. The pronounced bags under his eyes tell of sleepless nights and the fatigue of being looked into a cell that doesn’t offer even minimal conditions.
“In fact, since I went out behind the three being processed, I noted in them a very special condition, with their heads down and in a slightly uncomfortable position, of sadness and of some form of impact. I was able to confirm this in the moment in which I stood in front of them and asked them if they’d received some type of torture or they’d made some kind of threats to them,” Montenegro recounted.
The lawyer greeted the three farmers. He asked them if they’d been “objects of mistreatment.” Medardo merely responded that in El Chipote yes – “they had to get on their knees, they kicked them and the inferred other things that they did to them.”
Mairena was the one who spoke most. He took advantage of the moment to denounce the fact that his three sons, all minors, were being threatened. The penal authorities have told him that if he doesn’t change his attitude, his family members could be in danger. All of this he said briefly and without any detail.
When Montenegro asked him directly if he had suffered any type of torture in the penitentiary system, he didn’t respond. He skipped over the topic and spoke of other people who were suffering other uncomfortable situations.
“His physical appearance, effectively, as you can note about him, is essentially that of someone impacted by physical damage He’s a little pale, a little thin and above all at the moment of speaking with him you can note a condition of special psychological impact that could be the product, perhaps, of some kind of pressure. He was extremely sparing to me with his words, with an elusive gaze of fear and this says a lot, although he didn’t want to disclose any situation of mistreatment. We believe that there’s something more going on than simply being locked up and what happened at El Chipote,” the lawyer insisted.
The exchange of words didn’t go any further, because the heavily armed guards then abruptly got the farmers up and took them out of the room. Montenegro filed a complaint with the judge, who then had the detained returned only when he observed that the attorney was communicating with a nationally respected independent media outlet.
“For some reason, I thought that they had taken them to the bathroom and that perhaps I had confused the circumstances, but no. When I asked Medardo Mairena and Mr. Pedro Mena they told me that they had taken them back to the preventive cells, where they take them after the hearings in order to later transport them back to the prison,” the lawyer told us.
Montenegro asked the judge to have the three farmers examined by a doctor. In the same way, he asked for the accused to be allowed to have a moment with their family members. However, they were only waiting for the signature of the accused and then immediately took them away in handcuffs without allowing anyone to approach.
“With anticipation, and handing the family members their identity cards, I had insistently requested of the judge that in light of the fact that they weren’t allowing them to receive visits, that they be allowed at that moment to have the opportunity to converse with their family members. We believe the state in which these people are being processed openly violates their human rights. And this is a form of public denunciation so that the State, as such, assumes the responsibility it has to protect them. They have the right to humanitarian treatment and this isn’t being complied with,” concluded Montenegro.
Irregularities of the process
From the beginning of the process involving Mairena, Mena and Pineda, there’s been an open violation of their human rights. For example, they don’t have the right to be judged by the normal judge from where they live, but have been transferred to the capital so that the trial can be directed by the three judges who are currently in charge of the hearings.
The presiding judge for the farmers’ hearing is Henry Morales Olivares. However, Ernesto Rodriguez Mejia is also designated for other trials, such as that of Brandon Lovo and Glen Slate, two youths accused of killing journalist Angel Gahona, as well as judge Nancy Aguirre.
Aguirre is also presiding over the trial against Cristopher Enrique Ampie, Jaime Ramon Ampie Toledo, Julio Jose Ampie Machado, William Efrain Picado Duarte and Reynaldo Antonio Lira, who are accused of the murder of Jorge Gaston Palacios, a Sandinista militant, in the community of El Quebracho in Boaco, and also for damage, illegal arms possession and attempted homicide.
The farmers were also not presented before the judicial authorities within the legally established time period. And they aren’t being granted the guarantees of open publicity; up until this moment this has been allowed only to those of the government’s media.
“During the time that they kept me outside of the Court complex, the official television channels: Channels 2, 6, 8, and 13 were present and made a series of videos and photos that afterwards everyone had the opportunity to see,” complained Montenegro
In the moment in which Montenegro gave his opinion regarding the exchange of information and evidence, he stated that during this process they were openly violating the rights of the accused and what was being done was essentially a criminalization of the protests.
“The judge was told that on a foundation of impartiality he was obligated to discovery the truth. Effectively, this isn’t supposed to happen until the moment of trial. What do we see here? That he, at this stage of the initial hearing, as an impartial authority and seeing that the charges being made aren’t in line with reality, should not admit said interchange of information and evidence, and as a consequence should set the prisoners free. Nevertheless, it was evident that he wasn’t going to accept the proposal,” declared the lawyer.
The proposed proof by the Prosecution said the farmers were participating in civic protests and that they were at some of the roadblocks. Nonetheless, in no part of the penal code does it appear that this is a crime. However, the fact of having a mortar, something the police themselves have done, is illegal.
Montenegro expressed that from the legal perspective that the defense is focusing on, the accusations being made do not correspond with illegal acts, but is a criminalization of the protest.
“We are observing another situation. The arguments of the prosecution are neither solid nor fundamental and we can note this and that’s why there isn’t a lot of publicity, because if there was, many irregularities regarding the accusations would be uncovered. This all indicates that the Judicial Power isn’t acting impartially,” declared the lawyer.