Dora Maria Tellez, former guerrilla leader and a founder of the Sandinista Renewal Movement, now the Union for Democratic Renewal (Unamos) was declared guilty on Thursday, February 3rd. Receiving the same verdict was student leader Lesther Aleman, who bluntly told Daniel Ortega to resign during the first national dialogue in 2018, after the brutal repression the ruler had unleashed against the April rebellion.
Both Aleman and Tellez were found guilty of the catch-all charge of “conspiring to undermine the national integrity and to damage the Nicaraguan State and society.
Neither verdict came as a surprise, as the “trials” were conducted in Ortega-controlled kangaroo court located at the infamous El Chipote jail complex instead of a courthouse.
Both Dora Maria Tellez and Lesther Aleman were ushered into the trial setting without any prior notice, Confidencial confirmed. Aleman was offered no access to his lawyer, either before or during the process. Dora Marial Tellez was only allowed a few minutes to exchange words with her attorney. The prosecution has asked for the maximum sentence of 15 years, and to have both inhibited from holding public office.
“Aleman’s lawyer was not allowed to speak, to object or to question. He was constantly interrupted and forced to remain silent,” denounced the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN) in a statement. Neither lawyer was allowed to see the trial record. In the case of Aleman’s defense lawyer, his rights were denied on “multiple occasions” by presiding judge Nadia Camila Tardencilla Rodriguez of the Second District Criminal Court.
Prosecution used Dora Maria’s retweets against her
The Public Prosecutor’s office based the case against Dora Maria Tellez on the testimony of four police agents. One of them, Confidencial revealed, was an information systems specialist. Their testimony revealed the police use of web-management software to monitor interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Among the evidence the prosecution cited against the former guerilla leader were Tellez’ retweets of posts from Jose Miguel Vivanco, former director of Human Rights Watch; and a retweet from an individual who had shared the letter US Senators sent to Joe Biden in 2021, urging him to take additional measures in response to the worsening repression in Nicaragua.
The prosecution also cited an alleged letter posted on Twitter by the Sandinista Renewal Movement, where Tellez’ name appeared but not her signature. The prosecution added material from two interviews that Tellez, a historian, offered to independent media, and two interchanges at different times with members of the European Parliament.
According to the prosecution, the former Sandinista commander “called for a boycott and sanctions against Nicaragua during the cited interventions. However, Confidencial has learned that in these interviews Tellez spoke only of individual sanctions that wouldn’t affect the territorial integrity of Nicaragua.
For their part, the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN) stated that the Public Prosecutor presented “a fake profile [of Lesther Aleman] on Facebook, plus two videos of interviews and photos that in no way could comprise evidence of crimes.” They affirmed that the evidence presented during the student leader’s trial was “fabricated”.
“Prisoner or free, I’ll keep fighting”
Dora Maria Tellez’ “trial”, presided over by Angel Jeancarlos Fernandez, lasted for about three and a quarter hours. Tellez herself spoke up to complain about the violation of her rights during more than seven months in pretrial detention. During the entire period, she was denied the right to speak with her lawyers, to receive regular family visits, or to read, and she was kept in cold and isolation.
She emphasized that the Nicaraguan State should not be confused with the person of Daniel Ortega: “[Neither] Daniel Ortega nor Rosario Murillo are the Nicaraguan State. This is a Republic, not a monarchy. Prisoner or free, I’ll keep fighting.”
Aleman, on the other hand, was not allowed to defend himself, even at his own trial. When he attempted to point out inconsistencies in the case presented against him, the prosecutor demanded that the Ortega-allied judge order him to “shut up”, despite the fact that he legally had the right to speak. The judge immediately agreed, and the youth was only allowed to reiterate his innocence, assured sources from the AUN.
Aleman is 24 and a member of the AUN student organization. He became involved in the anti-government social protests that exploded in April 2018. He fled Nicaragua and spent a year in exile before returning in 2019. At that time, he announced that he was “assuming my own risks.” He knew that the possibility of being imprisoned for having challenged the dictatorial couple to their face was always present.
On the night of July 5, 2021, Aleman was abducted and violently removed from his mother’s house. During his 214 days in jail, the student leader has been subjected to constant interrogations. Following the scant visits his mother, Lesbia Alfaro, was allowed in the El Chipote jail, she affirmed he had lost over 30 pounds, was suffering dizzy spells, and appeared undernourished. His mother was also present at the trial, where she said he looked “serene and strong”.
Last month, AUN complained that Aleman was suffering from constant pain in his right leg, and was having difficulty walking and sleeping. He has since received medical attention, although the diagnosis of his maladies remains unknown.
Brutal malice against the former guerrilla
The regime of Daniel Ortega has exercised special cruelty with Tellez since her violent capture on June 13, 2021. She’s been subjected to continual solitary confinement and held totally incommunicado. Three other female prisoners have suffered this same cruel treatment: Suyen Barahona, president of Unamos, the Union for Democratic Renewal; Ana Margarita Vijil, a former president of Unamos; and Tamara Davila, a member of the Blue and White National Unity’s political council. Ana Margarita Vijil was declared guilty of “conspiracy” on February 2nd.
The brutal treatment of those belonging to Unamos is considered “political revenge” on the part of the Ortega regime for the role their parent organization, the Sandinista Renewal Movement, has played. This was the conclusion family members and human rights advocates expressed in an article Confidencial published in November 2021.
In 1978, Dora Maria Tellez led a guerilla takeover of the National Palace and the subsequent negotiations to free 60 political prisoners being held by the Somoza dictatorship. She is now a prisoner of conscience of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship. She began to dissent publicly from the FSLN in 1995. Her voice, as she continued pointing out the Sandinista Front’s abuses of power and authoritarianism, became one of the most troublesome for the regime.
In a February 2nd opinion article, Monica Baltodano, another Sandinista Front dissident, highlighted the “detestable and vengeful way” the regime has treated Tellez and called her political trial “an unscrupulous judicial process that is completely flawed and utterly, totally null.”
“Dora Maria Tellez deserves to be respected and accompanied by all honest Nicaraguan citizens. She was one of the most outstanding women in the fight against the Somoza dictatorship, and she continues this [struggle] today against the dictatorship of Ortega and Murillo,” Baltodano emphasized in an article published this week in Confidencial.
Trials held in the jail complex are violating the laws
The political trials of the political prisoners have been reactivated by order of Daniel Ortega and are scheduled throughout the month of February. They’re being held in the same installations of the “El Chipote”, jail complex where dozens have been locked up since the end of May 2021.
Holding these trials in the jail complex is one more of many due process violations, stated Maria Asuncion Moreno, criminal law specialist, during an interview on the weekly internet news program Esta Noche.
Lawyers who are closely following the cases against the political prisoners agree with Moreno that the judges are not allowed to hold hearings outside the Court Complex. The exceptions established in Article 121 of Nicaragua’s Criminal Procedures Code only apply to “contingencies” that require the presence of a judge within their territorial faculties. Attorney Maria Moreno indicated that this exception doesn’t apply to the case of these political trails, because neither the defense nor the prosecution have moved to have them carried out in the “El Chipote” jail.
Right to a defense infringed
Another of the illegalities is that the political prisoners’ defense lawyers haven’t had access to the files – neither complete nor partial – nor have they been allowed to converse freely with the defendants.
An attorney who is following these political trials assured Confidencial that these processes are violating the exercise of technical and material defense as stipulated in Article 124 of the Criminal Procedures Code, which establishes: “parties may receive, at their own expense and without a separate request, plain copies of the legal proceedings.”
The lawyer added that the trial procedures also violated Article 34, Item 4 of Nicaragua’s Constitution, which demands that “the intervention and due defense be guaranteed from the onset of the process or procedure, allowing adequate time and means for defense.”
In addition, on January 31, the Public Ministry, head by the Attorney General, violated the principle of presumed innocence, by calling the political prisoners “criminals and delinquents” in the statement announcing the resumption of the trials.
“These same criminals and delinquents have repeatedly offended, putting at risk the rights of the people and of Nicaraguan society, and endangering peace and security. They’re the same ones who promoted and directed the terrorist acts of the failed Coup d’Etat in 2018, [when they] paralyzed the country and damaged the economy; they’re the same ones who have caused so much sorrow and mourning for Nicaraguan families, due to the assassinations, torture and kidnappings,” the Public Ministry posted.
Ortega also declared them guilty last November 8th, when he called them “sons of bitches of imperialism.”
Demanding freedom for the political prisoners
The Ortega regime is holding over 170 Nicaraguan political prisoners in their jails and prisons; more than thirty of them in the “El Chipote” jail complex. They’re subjected to solitary confinement in punishment cells, and they’ve endured physical and psychological tortures say their relatives, who’ve only been allowed five family visits during the course of over six months of imprisonment.
The relatives of the prisoners in “El Chipote” issued a joint statement at the end of January, demanding the annulment of the trials and the unconditional liberation of all the prisoners of conscience. With that statement, they added their voices to a previous communique from another group of family members, appealing for the support of “those in government, the living forces of the nation and the [Catholic] Church” to “lead a process of citizen unification.” They emphasized that the liberation of the prisoners of conscience would comprise “a liberation shared by all Nicaraguans.”
Following these declarations, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), which had remained silent since September 2021, backed the demand to free the prisoners of conscience, and announced their willingness to enter a national dialogue “without preconditions”, amid the Ortega regime’s worst crisis of legitimacy. The regime, however, had previously announced meetings with other economic sectors, with no mention of Cosep.
Thirty-nine political prisoners were detained between May 28 and October 21, including four who remain under house arrest. Twenty-nine of them are accused of conspiracy to undermine the national sovereignty; another seven are accused of money laundering and other fabricated crimes; two are under investigation for violations of the “Sovereignty Law”; and one for abusive transactions and undue appropriation and retention.
The regime has employed a package of catch-all repressive laws to imprison the opposition, all passed between October 2020 and February 2021. The most frequently used up until now has been Law #1055 – the “Law for the Defense of the People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”, better known as the “Sovereignty Law”. This law was used to lock up the seven leading figures who were aspiring to run against Daniel Ortega in the 2021 presidential elections. It was also employed to jail political, civic, student and rural leaders, former diplomats, journalists, activists, professionals, and human rights defenders.
The regime has also employed their “Cybercrimes Law”, popularly known as the “Gag Law”, that was approved on October 27, 2020. This law penalizes anyone who propagates “fake news”, with the definition left to the regime’s criteria. The prosecution used that law in January to sentence two dissidents – Donald Alvarenga and Douglas Cerros. Alvarenga was found guilty of supposedly “inciting hatred and violence”, and for “subversion, disobedience and rebellion amounting to a conspiracy to affect the national integrity.” His crime consisted of being a former Sandinista who shared some anti-government opinions on Facebook and WhatsApp. Cerros was similarly sentenced for presumably undermining the national integrity and spreading fake news.