As if the accumulated emotional agony of 85 days with no word of their loved ones wasn’t enough, relatives of the political prisoners faced an additional torment when finally permitted a visit this past weekend in Ortega’s El Chipote jail. They were subjected to humiliating and degrading entrance procedures before being allowed to proceed. When they finally were allowed to enter, they found the prisoners thinner and with accumulated health problems.
Two testimonies heard on the online television news program Esta Semana on November 20th, confirmed that jail authorities forced visiting family members of the political prisoners to strip and do squats. The supposed reason was to verify that “they weren’t carrying anything from the outside.”
Cristopher Mendoza, nephew of imprisoned sports writer Miguel Mendoza, described how Margine Pozo, Mendoza’s wife, was stripped and searched by a prison functionary. The experience, he expressed, was “very hard” for her. Miguel Mendoza has been found guilty of supposedly spreading fake news and “conspiring” against the national integrity.
“[My aunt] had to take off her underwear, while they searched her body. My uncle felt very bad about that. Among the things he said to her when he saw her, were: “forgive me, my love, because this situation has exposed you to these conditions,” Cristopher Mendoza affirmed.
Renata Holmann, daughter of political prisoner Juan Lorenzo Holmann, also told of the mockery inflicted on her mother, who they also obligated to take off all her clothes and perform squats. Juan Lorenzo Holmann, former general manager of the opposition newspaper La Prensa, was tried and sentenced in a clearly fabricated case of money laundering.
“They treated my grandmother [Holmann’s 95-year-old mother] with a little more respect, but they still subjected her to an intensive search. The experience of my family isn’t unique. This abuse was common to all the family members of the political prisoners. Really, it has increased with each successive visit. It’s a lack of respect and one more attempt to humiliate us and violate the rights of the family members who only want to visit their political prisoners,” Renata Holmann expressed on the news program.
Last week, family members of the more than 40 political prisoners jailed in El Chipote issued a public letter demanding “proof of life”, following the police authorities’ refusal to authorize visits. This unexplained lapse in visits kept families mired in uncertainty, fearing a worsening of the prisoners’ situation.
Gonzalo Carrion, exiled coordinator of the Nicaragua Nunca + “[Never Again Nicaragua”] Human Rights Collective, explained that the tortures practiced by the dictatorship against the political prisoners have been extended to their family members as well.
Carrion recalled that, since the Collective was founded, they’ve gathered 170 testimonies of the horrors and tortuous mistreatment practiced in the El Chipote jail. This Managua jail and police complex has become a reference point in the region for this type of abuse, part of the prison abuses that are endemic within Nicaragua’s police jails and penitentiary system.
A number of witness statements have mentioned different methods that threaten the physical and mental well-being of the prisoners of conscience. These include submitting them to continuous interrogations, sleep deprivation, either bright lights burning all night or the total absence of adequate light, isolation, a refusal to allow minor children to visit, and even denying them all reading materials.
“Being forced to endure nearly three months with no family contact is part of the suffering those deprived of liberty are subjected to. It’s also extended to the family members, who have no way of knowing how their loved ones are. It’s a two-pronged suffering,” added the human rights advocate.
“The dictatorship is killing them slowly”
Relatives also confirmed that the dictatorship’s prisoners continue deteriorating physically, due to the extremely poor nutrition in the prison system. Alfredo Mairena, brother of imprisoned rural leader Medardo Mairena, affirmed that the political prisoner has lost 80 pounds since his confinement began on July 6, 2021.
“The dictatorship is killing them slowly. His physical condition is worrisome. Those of us who know Medardo feel like it’s not even him. My sister says he’s worse – he appears more severely affected, thinner,” stated Alfredo, who added that the imprisoned farm leader was suffering from circulatory problems.
Alfred Mairena explained that after a three-day hunger strike, his brother succeeded in having jail authorities transfer him out of a punishment cell to another location. However, he still isn’t receiving sunlight, something that’s “of great concern.”
Cristopher Mendoza added that his uncle, Medardo Mendoza, was deceived by the jail functionaries, who came to the jail and began asking the political prisoners which of them had small children. The former sports columnist believed this implied a promise that he’d be allowed to see his daughter, but in the end nothing came of it.
Mendoza’s nephew said that Miguel Mendoza is still losing weight, which is very worrisome since he’s dropped more than 30 pounds during his incarceration. Even though Mendoza seemed to be in good spirits, his physical deterioration was evident, Cristopher noted.
For her part, Renata Holmann noted that she found her father to be thinner. His blood pressure is more stable, she affirmed, but they still haven’t given him the medical attention he requires for his heart problems. He also has a hernia problem they haven’t attended to, which is making it difficult for him to walk.
“In terms of his mental health, he continues firm, convinced that sooner of later the truth will win. He’s well, and God is giving him the strength to go forward and survive the abuses he’s being subjected to,” Holmann’s niece added.
Irving Larios is another of the political prisoners. He appeared gaunt and haggard when the regime exhibited him last September, in a Managua courtroom. His daughter, who was allowed to visit him, also complained of the “deplorable” food allowance for the prisoners.
She described the food her father receives as “clumps of badly cooked rice” and a small portion of beans. At other times, he receives a boiled egg and chayote [a pear-shaped vegetable belonging to the gourd family]. It’s always of poor quality.” His daughter estimates that Larios has lost some 40 pounds during his imprisonment, to the extent that his ears and teeth look “disproportionate.”
The prisoner is also having trouble lifting one arm, due to a “lump” there. He, too, hasn’t been given the needed medical attention. “He’s having problems in his scalp, they don’t know if it’s a fungus infection. He’s been asking for a shampoo, since it’s extremely itchy. It’s not only him – there are other people with the same problem,” Larios’ daughter denounced.
The young woman confirmed that her father has suspended his hunger strike, that he remained strong emotionally, and that he’s totally lucid and coherent.