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Ex-Nicaragua rebel convicted of conspiring against Ortega

February 4, 2022 GMT

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Former Sandinista rebel commander Dora María Téllez, one of dozens of political detainees rounded up last year by Nicaragua’s government, was convicted after a trial lasting only a few hours, a lawyers group said Thursday.

The Judicial Defense Unit, a coalition of lawyers, said the trial was held in the infamous Chipote prison, where 39 of the political opponents of her onetime ally, President Daniel Ortega, have been held for months.

The lawyers said Judge Ángel Fernández declared Téllez guilty of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” and recommended she be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Téllez, 65, led an assault on the National Palace in 1978 during the Somoza family dictatorship, holding congress members hostage in exchange for the release of rebel prisoners. Following Anastasio Somoza’s overthrow the next year, Téllez served as health minister in the first Sandinista government, which was led by Ortega from 1979 to 1990.

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She later split with Ortega and became a leader of the opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement. The former leader of that movement, Ana Margarita Vijil, was found guilty of the same charge in a similar trial Wednesday.

Also convicted Thursday was former student protest leader Lesther Alemán. The Nicaraguan University Alliance, Alemán’s group, said his trial lasted a total of six hours.

Lawyer Vilma Núñez, who leads the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, had predicted the hearings would be only for show, with the outcomes already concluded.

“This looks like it will be pre-ordained convictions of innocent people,” Núñez said.

“Nobody should be confused. These are not trials,” Núñez said. “These are repressive farces that the regime uses to issue convictions and continue to intimidate the people.”

Núñez spoke Monday, after prosecutors announced they were starting trials for 46 political figures arrested between May and June, in the run-up to Nicaragua’s Nov. 7 presidential election.

They include seven people who had been considered potential candidates to challenge Ortega, who ran essentially unopposed and won a fourth term in the November vote, which was widely criticized as a farce. It was called illegitimate by the United States, European Union and the Organization of American States General Assembly.

Relatives have said the 39 prisoners kept in prison since being arrested have been subjected to isolation, constant interrogations and insufficient food. The seven others are under a form of house arrest.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in congressional testimony Thursday that Ortega’s abuse of Nicaragua’s justice system to imprison opponents in “horrific conditions” without adequate food and harsh sentences would have consequences ranging from U.S. sanctions to its possible expulsion from the OAS.

“They are on the road to expulsion from the Organization of the American States with the direction they are going,” he said, adding that Ortega hadn’t responded to the OAS secretary general’s request for a meeting to discuss concerns about the state of democracy in the country.

The ruling Sandinista Front and its allies control Nicaragua’s congress and all government institutions. After leading the revolutionary government, Ortega served as president from 1985 to 1990, before being re-elected to power in 2007.