Nicaragua opposition activists arrested trying to aid strike

Nicaragua’s opposition says 13 activists including a Belgian-Nicaraguan student have been arrested as they tried to deliver aid to relatives of jailed government opponents

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Thirteen activists including a Belgian-Nicaraguan student were arrested as they tried to deliver aid to relatives of jailed opponents of President Daniel Ortega’s government, Nicaragua’s opposition said Friday.

The family members are on hunger strike at a church in the city of Masaya, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Managua, to protest their loved ones’ incarceration amid a protracted political stalemate following protests last year and a deadly crackdown by government security forces and allied civilian militias.

Haydeé Castillo, a leader of the opposition coalition Blue and White National Unity, said the activists were “unjustly and arbitrarily” detained by police Thursday night when they tried to enter the San Miguel church and were taken to El Chipote prison in Managua. The hunger strikers are demanding the release of 130 people the opposition considers political prisoners.

“We condemn this arrest and we ask the international community to act to stop the repression by the government,” Castillo added.

Government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and police have not confirmed the arrests.

Parish priest Edwin Román said the activists had tried to bring water to the church after water and electrical service were cut off. He said by phone that he remained inside the church with the hunger strikers and that they were surrounded by police “without possibility of leaving or having access to other people.”

Tamara Zamora, the mother of Amaya Coppens, an activist with dual Belgian citizenship who was jailed for a year for taking part in anti-government protests, said authorities confirmed her daughter was among those arrested.

The Central American nation’s political unrest erupted with protests in April 2018 accusing Ortega of increasingly authoritarian rule and demanding he leave office and allow early elections.

At least 328 people were killed in the crackdown, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, along with 2,000 wounded, hundreds arrested — most have since been released — and about 88,000 fled into exile.

The government considers opposition protesters coup plotters and “terrorists” who attempted a failed putsch.