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Nicaragua has convicted more than a dozen opponents of President Daniel Ortega


What's it like to be on the wrong side of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega? The ongoing trials of his opponents that he rounded up and jailed give us a window. This month, more than a dozen opponents of the president have been convicted of so-called crimes against the nation. They're part of a larger group of prisoners who will be tried.

We're joined by NPR's Carrie Kahn, who covers Nicaragua, and Nicaraguan journalist Wilfredo Miranda Aburto. He fled the country and is now in Costa Rica, where he reports for the news website Divergentes. Hi, Carrie.


FLORIDO: (Speaking Spanish), Wilfredo, (speaking Spanish)?


FLORIDO: Carrie, why did Ortega arrest these people? And what does the government say that they were conspiring to do?

KAHN: They were arrested last summer before last year's presidential election, and Ortega pretty much jailed all opposition to him, including seven presidential candidates. And he easily won reelection in November, giving him a fourth consecutive term in office.

And Ortega and his wife, who's the vice president, say these people are enemies of the state. They're terrorists causing damage to the nation. And under new laws, they can be prosecuted for charges akin to treason, and they're facing as much as 15 years in prison. The trials have been short - just a few hours long inside a prison, not a public courtroom, and prisoners' access to lawyers is very limited.

FLORIDO: Wilfredo Miranda, you used to work as a journalist in Nicaragua, and we'll note that you've worked for NPR helping Carrie with stories when you were there. You've been to this prison before. What is it like, and what have you heard about how these trials are being conducted? (Speaking Spanish).

ABURTO: (Through interpreter) The trials are in the same prison where the political prisoners are being held. Their families say they've been tortured, and there have been a lot of irregularities in these trials. Lawyers say they don't have enough access to their clients. Even inside the courtrooms, their time with their clients is limited.

They aren't even getting access to the evidence against them. And lawyers say a lot of false evidence is being introduced, a lot of it based on tweets or things their clients have said in the media. Most of the witnesses are Ortega's people, and these trials are happening just in a few hours. We're seeing a mockery of justice in Nicaragua.

FLORIDO: You are living and working in exile in neighboring Costa Rica. Why did you flee? (Speaking Spanish).

ABURTO: (Through interpreter) I fled Nicaragua because the prosecutor threatened to jail me for allegedly violating a cybercrimes law. It's this new law that they invented that allows them to accuse journalists and everyday citizens of reporting false news. They can sentence you to eight years, which they did to four people just this week. And so I had to flee to Costa Rica on a boat, not just to guarantee my freedom but so that I could keep reporting from exile.

FLORIDO: How are you able to continue reporting from Nicaragua? (Speaking Spanish).

ABURTO: (Through interpreter) Look. It's hard because our sources in Nicaragua won't talk to us. They're afraid of being accused of treason. So it's hard for me, but it's even harder for my colleagues who are still in Nicaragua, who are basically trying to do journalism clandestinely, in hiding so that Ortega's government doesn't go after them.

FLORIDO: Carrie, can you tell us about some of the people who've been recently sentenced? Who are they?

KAHN: They're political rivals of Ortega - journalists, student leaders, even former guerrilla fighters that were part of the Sandinistas, who, along with Ortega, ousted the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. Like Dora Maria Tellez - she was a young guerrilla fighter, and she's legendary. She was part of a group that stormed the Nicaraguan national palace, taking legislators hostage in 1978. And she's 66 now, and last week, she was convicted of that treason charge and is facing 15 years in prison.

Another is 24-year-old Lesther Aleman, a student leader during major protests against Ortega in 2018. He famously challenged Ortega face to face in the national dialogue for attacking demonstrators. He, too, is facing 15 years. And all 47 prisoners will face trials.

FLORIDO: And what is the response about these trials in international circles? What has the U.S. government said?

KAHN: The U.S. has sanctioned top Nicaraguan officials, including Ortega's inner circle. State Department has spoke out about what they say is the abuse of the judicial system and keeping these opponents in these horrific conditions. The Organization of American States is talking about expelling Nicaragua from the regional body, and meanwhile, the number of Nicaraguan migrants making it to the U.S. border has quadrupled in recent months.

FLORIDO: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City and journalist Wilfredo Miranda Aburto in San Jose, Costa Rica. Thanks to both of you.

ABURTO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
Wilfredo Miranda Aburto