As Nicaragua faces increased international criticism for criminalizing dissent, the government released dozens of political prisoners on Monday.
The New York Times reports that 91 people who had been arrested for participating in anti-government protests were released this week. In a statement, leaders noted that the men and women were liberated as a gesture of national reconciliation. Still, the state isn’t dropping charges against the formerly incarcerated but rather placing them on house arrest.
“This is a great day for Nicaragua, because it proves what we had been saying all along: There are political prisoners in Nicaragua,” Martha Alvarado, whose son Melkissedex A. López Ferrey was released, told the newspaper. “We never lost faith, and we are not giving up until everyone is free.”
More than 500 people have been jailed since protests began in the Central American country in April 2018. While thousands originally took to the streets to rally against social security cuts, their fight transformed into one about democracy after reports began circulating that the authoritarian government of Daniel Ortega started attacking demonstrators, including students and the elderly. The opposition movement grew to hundreds of thousands, with rallies that took over university campuses and blocked traffic.
The Times reports that hundreds of people died in cases tied to the protests. Many more were silenced through massive arrests. Among them is Scannierth Merlo Lacayo, who was released on Monday.
“I had been sentenced to five years for supposedly stealing a Sandinista Party member’s I.D. card, but the real reason was because I was against the government — and I am going to continue to be against the government,” Merlo told the Times.
Other political prisoners were accused of crimes like arms trafficking, drug trafficking and robbery.
The releases follow months of global condemnation of the Nicaraguan government, including from the United States, which strengthened sanctions against the government.