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Student leader Lesther Aleman and other students arrive to the second day of the national dialogue, holding large poster depicting images of students who were killed in recent protests, in Managua, Nicaragua, May 18, 2018.
Alfredo Zuniga/AP

Activists Call Out 'Lethal Strategy of Repression' Against Student Protesters in Nicaragua

For the past month, dissent has been brewing in Nicaragua — with at least 76 people, mostly students, killed and hundreds more injured in anti-government protests since mid-April. 

Now, human rights groups are calling on the government to stop the bloodshed, warning the government has “unleashed a lethal strategy of repression against protesters,” according to a press release by human rights organization Amnesty International

“The Nicaraguan authorities have turned on their own people in a vicious, sustained, and frequently lethal assault on their rights to life, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement Tuesday. “The government of President [Daniel] Ortega has then shamelessly tried to cover up these atrocities, violating the victims’ rights to truth, justice, and reparation.”

Take Action: Thank the UK for Protecting Children, Teachers and Schools from Attack

Student-led protests began on April 18, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced a plan to raise taxes and slash welfare benefits two days earlier. The reforms, announced by presidential decree, cut disability and social security pensions by 5% and also increased taxes on workers, Havana Times reported

According to The New York Times, students, frustrated by the lack of political change in their country, used the social security overhaul as a way to broaden the critique of a single government policy to the much larger issue of political repression. 

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“This isn’t a struggle just from now,” one student told The New York Times. “This has been a dictatorship for almost 12 years. The people can’t take it anymore.” 

Although Ortega later backtracked on the overhaul, protests continued to build as students called for Ortega to step down and pave the way for free elections, citing his government’s poor handling of the protests

Protests in at least 10 cities, including the capital of Managua, were the biggest seen in Nicaragua since the end of the civil war in 1990, according to CNN

Read More: 3 Things to Know About the Protests Taking Over Nicaragua

Ortega, for his part, has said that the repression on protesters has been carried out not by his government but by "criminals and gang members," BBC reports. His wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, accused the media of “fake news,” saying in a televised speech: “Those tiny, petty, mediocre beings, those beings full of hate, still have the nerve to invent dead.” 

But Amnesty International attributed the wave of violence to a “heavy-handed and highly coordinated response to the protests” by the government. 

This has been corroborated by human rights defenders on the ground, includings the founder of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, Vilma Núñez. 

“They didn’t just use the police here,” Núñez told The New York Times of the government’s response to the protests. “They used strike forces. The order was definitely to kill, not to stop the protest.”

Read More: Trump Administration Gives Nicaraguan Refugees 1 Year to Go Back

Activists, backed by the Organization of American States, have called upon Ortega to step down and allow for early elections, Al Jazeera reports

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Amnesty International urged President Ortega to “guarantee and respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful public protest of those who use demonstrations to condemn and comment on public policies.” 

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