MANAGUA, Nicaragua – More than 200 political prisoners in Nicaragua were released and flown to the United States on Thursday, including five former presidential hopefuls and other leading critics of President Daniel Ortega, in what Washington described as a “constructive step” toward improving human rights.
The mass release “opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Washington has denounced Ortega’s reelection in 2021 as a “sham” after the long-ruling leader jailed numerous opponents ahead of the vote, with journalists and religious figures also imprisoned in recent years, sparking international outcry.
A Nicaraguan judge denounced the 222 prisoners released as “traitors” in a televised statement, and said they had been “deported.”
Nicaragua’s government announced on Thursday plans to change the law to allow the country to strip the freed prisoners of their citizenship.
Among those freed were former presidential hopefuls Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena, and Arturo Cruz, as well as prominent student activist Lesther Aleman, a Nicaraguan judicial document showed.
Blinken said dual-citizen Michael Healy, who had been given a 13-year prison sentence, was also released. The former inmates landed at Dulles International Airport near Washington shortly before noon local time on Thursday.
In addition two others were freed but chose not to travel, a State Department spokesman said.
About 100 people awaited their arrival at the airport, with many waving Nicaraguan flags and signs with the names of those released. Some sang a cherished national song, “My Nicaragua,” and chanted, “Free!”
Ariana Gutierrez Pinto, 28, said she was eager to be reunited with her mother, Evelyn Pinto, just in time to celebrate the 63-year-old’s birthday later this month.
On Twitter, the Nicaraguan University Alliance wrote: “Our friends have been freed,” referring to four students who were imprisoned following their participation in protests.
“Some of these individuals have spent years in prison, many of them for exercising their fundamental freedoms, in awful conditions and with no access to due process,” said a US State Department spokesperson.
The released prisoners will go through the humanitarian parole process, the Biden administration said in a note to Congress. It added that the Nicaraguan government had made “its own decision” to release the prisoners, and urged further steps to ensure human rights in Nicaragua. – Rappler.com
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