Nicaragua sentences student leader, ex-Sandinista commander
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaragua sentenced a student protest leader and a former Sandinista rebel commander to prison Thursday on charges of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity,” the latest in a string of prison sentences following brief trials this month.
Student leader Lesther Alemán, 24, who famously stood up to President Daniel Ortega and told him to surrender in 2018, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Dora María Téllez, 65, who 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, was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Both were among dozens of opposition figures arrested by the Ortega regime last summer in the run-up to November’s presidential elections.
Alemán’s mother, Lesbia Alfaro, called her son’s trial “nonsense, a lie, a circus.” She maintained Alemán’s innocence. “He is not a terrorist.”
The Nicaraguan University Alliance, which Alemán founded after massive popular protests began against the government in April 2018, said the main piece of evidence by the prosecution at his trial was a recording of his speech during an initial attempt at dialogue, in which he called on Ortega to step down.
“This is not a table of dialogue. This is a table to negotiate your exit and you know it well,” he told the president in the recording. “Give up!”
The alliance called his sentence “revenge” by Ortega.
Alemán fled the country in September 2018 when police were searching for him. He returned a year later noting that he was running a “very high risk.”
The nongovernmental Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights confirmed Téllez’s sentence Thursday. Téllez had served as the health minister during the first Sandinista government in 1979, but later became disenchanted as Ortega consolidated power and founded the Sandinista Renovation Movement, now known as the Democratic Renovation Union.
All of the trials have been carried out in the infamous Chipote prison. The defendants have only been permitted to have their lawyers present.
Among the opposition figures jailed last summer were seven potential challengers to Ortega for the presidency. With them all in custody he cruised to victory for a fourth consecutive presidential term in November in elections widely criticized by the international community.
Thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down the 2018 protests. Ortega says the protests were actually an attempted coup with foreign backing and many of those on trial have been accused to working with foreign powers for his overthrow or encouraging foreign nations to apply sanctions on members of his family and government.