Daniel Ortega expels the head of mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross | International

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The Government of Daniel Ortega has expelled Thomas Ess, head of mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from Nicaragua this Thursday, the agency has confirmed. The Government has not reported the reason for this expulsion, which occurs in the midst of a hunt against civil society organizations and human rights defenders. The ICRC is the only organization allowed to inspect the conditions of the regime’s political prisoners, at least 179 people who, according to their relatives, suffer mistreatment, do not have access to medical attention and are in difficult conditions in the prisons of the regime.

“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirms that it received a letter in which the Government of Nicaragua notifies that it has decided to withdraw the approval of our head of mission in Nicaragua. We do not know the reasons for this decision that took us by surprise. Despite this situation, the ICRC ratifies its commitment to continue its humanitarian work in Nicaragua, adhering to its principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence,” a source from the international organization confirmed to this newspaper.

The ICRC obtained government permission in 2019 to visit the country’s prisons and inspect the situation of those detained by the regime, although the results of its efforts are confidential. Magazine Confidential, from Managua, has reported that the relatives of political prisoners reported that the ICRC asked the Ortega government to enter the cells of ‘El Chipote’ —a prison considered a torture center by human rights organizations— to find out about the situation of the detainees, but the authorities denied access. “The latest information we had is that the ICRC, specifically the Directorate of Judicial Assistance, has been systematically denied entry, despite having made different efforts,” reported Ana Lucía Álvarez, sister of political prisoner Tamara Dávila, quoted by Confidential.

For the relatives of political prisoners, the ICRC is one of the few hopes they have to find out about the health conditions of their relatives, given that the Government is reluctant to allow visits, provide medical attention or distribute medicines to detainees, mainly some 20 people considered elderly and others suffering from chronic diseases. Repression has become one of the pillars to stay in power for Ortega, who has unleashed a brutal hunt against those who express any criticism of the regime. The more than 170 political prisoners have been arrested, tried and sentenced on charges related to money laundering, undermining sovereignty or organized crime.

The trials are considered spurious and they have not been able to prove the crimes charged to the detainees. This is the case, for example, of Cristiana Chamorro, an opposition candidate sentenced to eight years in prison. Other political prisoners have received sentences of up to 15 years for non-existent crimes.

Human rights organizations and family members denounce that these people detained for criticizing the regime are in inhuman conditions in prisons, held incommunicado and many suffer from delicate health conditions. On February 12, the former Sandinista historical guerrilla, retired General Hugo Torres, died in one of these prisons. He was being held in a cell in the ‘El Chipote’ prison.

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The expulsion of Thomas Ess is added to the decisions of the Government to expel from Nicaragua in 2018 a mission from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the mission of experts from the IACHR, and the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (Meseni). These organizations have denounced in successive reports that crimes against humanity have been committed in Nicaragua.

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