Nicaragua has released dozens of prisoners Wednesday who were arrested during protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega, ahead of long-awaited peace talks with the opposition, a human rights group said.
Authorities gave no details about the releases, which were announced by the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH) after relatives posted images on social media of busloads of jubilant inmates leaving La Modela prison outside Managua.
“We have verified that a couple of minibuses left and some known prisoners were inside,” CPDH president Marcos Carmona told AFP, adding that as many as 100 may have been released.
Many of the freed prisoners waved flags, sang the country’s national anthem and shouted “Viva Nicaragua”.
Relatives had spent the night outside the prison after rumors circulated that prisoners were to be released.
Ortega and the opposition were to begin talks Wednesday on easing tensions that began last April with deadly protests over the government’s now-ditched pension reform.
A crackdown by Ortega’s security forces left 325 people dead and more than 750 arrested and accused of terrorism by the time the protests ended in October, rights groups said.
Ortega has persistently denied culpability for the deaths of protesters, accusing, both the US and opposition parties of fomenting the unrest in an effort to topple his government.
Nicaragua released dozens of people imprisoned for anti-government protests, ahead of new talks between President Ortega’s government and the opposition.
Government crackdowns against student and opposition protests have left 320+ people dead since April. pic.twitter.com/FwBzPKLcN2
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 27, 2019
Previous negotiations broke
The government’s last attempt at dialogue with the opposition was in May, but the peace talks broke down after the president rejected opposition demands to resign and call for presidential elections.
The opposition is calling for electoral reform and justice for those killed in the protests, but the most pressing demand is the release prisoners, opposition leader Angel Rocha said last week.
Nicaragua is struggling with an economic crisis and a $315m deficit. GDP shrank four percent last year and some economists say it could contract 11 percent in 2019.
The opposition accuses former guerrilla leader Ortega, in power since 2007, of establishing a corrupt dictatorship with his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo.
But the government has maintained that this has been a “hate campaign” aimed at “delegitimising [Nicaragua’s] instituions with the goal of creating chaos and fear in the population.”
Al Jazeera and news agencies