Thousands have taken to the streets of the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, to demand the release of hundreds arrested during nearly four months of anti-government protests in the country.
“Freedom, freedom!” demonstrators chanted as they marched on Wednesday, some carrying signs that read “justice and freedom” for those arrested.
According to the Civic Alliance, an organisation representing the protesters, about 400 people who have been arrested since the protests began in mid-April remain in detention. Nearly 140 have been charged with crimes, including terrorism and organised crime, the organisation said.
Translation: March for the freedom of political prisoners in Managua.
Anti-government protests began on April 18 after a now-scrapped pension reform proposal was introduced.
The protests have since mushroomed into a broad campaign against Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
More than 300 killed
Protesters accuse Ortega’s government of using heavy-handed tactics to curb the demonstrations, including arbitrarily arresting thousands of people.
According to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 317 people have been killed by police and groups loyal to Ortega. The government puts the death toll at 197, including 22 police officers.
Ortega, whose supporters have also taken to the streets in recent months, has denied allegations that he controls the pro-government paramilitaries that rights groups claim work with police. He accused Nicaraguan political groups of heading rival anti-government groups.
In a recent interview with Fox News, the president accused those groups of killing “tens” of police officers, adding that “none of the peaceful demonstrators” have been attacked by police.
Ortega said he will serve out his term until 2021, maintaining that moving up the elections – a demand of the protesters – would “make things worse”.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has called on Ortega’s government to “put an end to the violence and to and to initiate once and for all the forms of dialogue that would pave the road to peace and the respect of human rights.”
Some 23,000 of Nicaraguans have sought refugee protection in neighbouring Costa Rica as a result of the violence.