Nicaragua judge orders opposition figure jailed for 90 days

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaraguan judicial authorities ordered Monday that a potential opposition presidential candidate be held for three months while his case is investigated.

Arturo Cruz Sequeira, a former ambassador to the United States, was arrested Saturday under a controversial “treason” law passed in December. Cruz was considered a contender for the nomination of the opposition Citizens for Liberty party in the Nov. 7 elections.

Also approved in December was a change to the penal code extending the period of pre-detention to 90 days from 48 hours.

The arrest of Cruz follows the detention earlier last week of opposition figure Cristiana Chamorro, who is being held incommunicado at her home on allegations of money laundering. The United States has called for the release of both opposition figures.

President Daniel Ortega is seeing a fourth consecutive term as president. His government has been systematically clearing the field of opponents.

His wife, first lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo, referred to the arrests for the first time Monday.

“We are not going to allow to perpetuate, to continue robbing the rights of the people,” Murillo said on official television. “Because it is a robbing of the rights of the people trying to cut short their sovereignty in exchange for ill-gotten money.”

Cruz, who served as Nicaragua’s ambassador in Washington in 2007-2009, was detained at the Managua airport after he arrived on a flight from the U.S. capital, his aides said.

Before the announcement of Cruz’s extended jailing, lawyer Elton Ortega told journalists he had filed a habeas corpus petition with a court because Cruz’s “location and physical condition were unknown.”

Juan Sebastián Chamorro, another presidential pre-candidate, said police searched Cruz’s home Monday. Videos of police arriving circulated on social media.

The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that it had asked a judge to extend the period of Cruz’s detention to 90 days. The judge complied.

The prosecutor’s office said it took the step due to “the seriousness and complexity of the alleged crime, as is the crime of provocation, proposition and conspiracy to commit harm to the national well-being; and because the probability exists that the subject of the investigation could interfere in the process.”

Chamorro’s lawyer, Orietta Benavídez, also went to court Monday seeking information about her client’s case, but received no response.

The opposition National Coalition said Monday the government had launched a “repressive onslaught” to instill fear before the elections, because it was afraid of losing.

The government “is using all of the institutional and political instruments to repress and try to instill fear in the people, at the same time it has put in motion all of the mechanisms to make the November elections a farse,” the coalition said in a statement.

It noted that a third potential opposition presidential contender, Félix Maradiaga, had been called to appear at the Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday. Maradiaga has said he has no idea why he has been called.

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