After the first days of the April 2018 social outbreak, Yoel Sandino, then 21, created a Facebook page to share information about the crisis Nicaragua was experiencing. The young man never imagined the reach that the virtual space called “Mentes Libres” (Free Minds) would have and much less, suspected that four years later, Ortega’s justice would use it against him in a secret political trial.
Sandino was abducted on Friday, November 5, 2021, while he was in a gym in the Linda Vista sector of Managua. The arrest was conducted by police intelligence officers, who beat him on the way to the station where he was subjected to interrogations during the early hours of the morning, in which they asked him who financed his Facebook page, according to his relatives.
His arrest was part of the 27 arrests made on the eve of the general elections, in which Daniel Ortega assigned himself a fourth consecutive term, with all the presidential aspirants, social and political leaders imprisoned in the El Chipote jail compound.
He “is a good son,” “intelligent” and “studious” is how his mother, Yamilet Ibarra, proudly describes Yoel. He studied languages, social network management and graphic design at a technical institute in Managua. However, his great dream was always to study medicine, so he made all the necessary arrangements to start his career in 2022, but his aspirations went unfulfilled.
“He already had his grades ready to enroll, however, the kidnapping by the ruling masters of our country, Nicaragua, have cut short the dream of a young citizen, for simply exercising his right of expression,” his mother stressed.
The Prosecutor’s Office aligned to the Ortega regime accused the digital activist of committing the fabricated crimes of “spreading fake news” and “undermining national integrity;” the same crimes they have used against other citizens captured in the political round-up of 2021, despite the fact that several of them had no links with opposition organizations and had not been involved in politics.
The 25-year-old is one of those cases. He does not belong to any anti-regime organization and was also not directly involved in the civic protests of April 2018. His participation in the civic struggle, like many Nicaraguans, has been through social networks. He collected videos that evidenced the human rights violations that occurred in Nicaragua, in addition to data and art works about the situation in the country, explained his mother, who rejected the accusations against her son and reiterated his innocence.
On the morning of November 5, Sandino published in his page Mentes Libres the following message: “Ortega illegally imprisoned seven presidential pre-candidates for fear of losing against any one of them.” That same afternoon, he was arrested. His mother considers that this publication triggered the arbitrary arrest, after months of persecution and besiegement by civilians.
His case is full of questions because the entire judicial process has been carried out under total secrecy. Before he was transferred from Station Two of the Jorge Navarro Police Penitentiary System, known as La Modelo, on December 1, 2021, they had already had his preliminary and initial hearing and a “flash” trial, conducted by judge Rolando Sanarrusia Munguia, of the Six Criminal District Court of Managua, on November 25th.
The family does not know the details of the accusation because they did not participate in the trial hearing and haven’t had the assistance of a private defense lawyer until recently. Thus, Sandino “was totally defenseless,” his mother denounced.
For its part, the Prosecutor’s Office used four publications of the Mentes Libres page as key evidence: the first, where Sandino pointed out the imprisonment of the pre-candidates; the second and third, related to the RENACER Law—approved by the United States—and a last one, supporting the presidential candidacy of Cristiana Chamorro, a political prisoner of the regime.
The prosecutor asked for 12 years in prison for the young activist, seven for conspiracy and five for spreading fake news. “He was convicted for all his media work opposing the non-compliance with human rights and the Nicaraguan Constitution,” notes his mother, who is very worried about his physical and mental integrity.
She adds that her son only exercised a universal right, such as expressing himself freely through a social network. Indeed, she explained that the Mentes Libres page has grown so much that there are similar initiatives administered by people inside and outside Nicaragua. “It is not my son’s fault that it has gone viral. Now he is in prison and all those pages are up and running,” said his mother.
Sandino’s case is added to the arbitrary detentions and controversial processes of political prisoners Douglas Cerros, Santos Camilo Bellorín, Donald Margarito Alvarenga and Nidia Barbosa, who were also arrested on the eve of the general elections. Later, they were accused and convicted by Ortega’s justice with sentences of 11 to 12 years in prison for violating the “Sovereignty Law” and the Cybercrimes Law, better known as “Gag Law;” both part of a package on punitive laws used as a political weapon against dissident voices.
As happened with Sandino, the prosecution has used the defendants’ publications against them, presenting them as evidence of the commission of the alleged crimes. However, the defense lawyers explain that the prisoners of conscience have only exercised their right to freedom of expression provided for in article 30 of the Constitution.
Sandino, who in his free time enjoyed reading science books, playing video games and exercising, is still awaiting his sentence in La Modelo. At his trial, he barely managed to say that he was innocent and that “Nicaragua will be free.”
Sandino’s mother is worried about her son’s health, since he has a congenital cyst in his head that measures four centimeters. The neurologist who was treating him ordered him to be evaluated every six months, but with the arrest this has not been done. The pathology also implies other types of effects in the control of blood pressure, breathing, dizziness, double vision, and strong headaches.
According to Ibarra, her son was scheduled for an appointment with the specialist on December 10, 2021, but the prison authorities did not take him and the only thing they tell him is “that someone will see him,” but in fact he remains the same. Her main demand is his unconditional release.
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