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Undertones: How a composite sketch gone viral sparked a debate in Nicaragua

There are about 170 political prisoners in Nicaragua

Last month, however, Ortega’s regime buckled under the pressure of human rights activists and families of the imprisoned and revealed images of one particular prisoner: Félix Maradiaga.

After Nicaragua implemented a cybercrime law targeting digital activists in 2021, only Nicaraguans abroad use their real identities online, while those inside the country predominantly use Whatsapp or post using pseudonyms or aliases. 

A day after Maradiaga’s composite sketch was released, on July 2, the Nicaraguan government shared images and a video of Maradiaga at his alleged “confirmation of sentence” proceedings in all its communication apparatus (TV, radio, print and social media). The state intended to refute civil society’s allegations about Maradiaga’s declining health. Yet, Maradiaga’s original trial had been held on March 3, 2022 – it is unsure whether the July images were indeed live or recorded from an earlier event. Maradiaga had been condemned to 13 years in prison for “undermining national integrity.”

“Political prisoners are the main and most urgent issue in Nicaragua in terms of human rights violations. The recently published portraits of Félix Maradiaga and of other political prisoners, created by civil groups and family members, have created a fissure in the government’s narrative and reawakened the public debate about the real conditions of political prisoners,” our researchers say.

Sometimes, the government narrative goes further. After being elected president in 2021, Ortega referred to political prisoners in a public speech as “sons of bitches of the imperialism,” and said that they should be taken to the U.S. because they are no longer Nicaraguans.

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