Latin America & Caribbean

Nicaraguan activists sentenced to more than 200 years

Farm leader Medardo Mairena speaks during the first round of dialogue in Managua, Nicaragua May 16, 2018 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Farmers' leader Medardo Mairena took part in talks on how to end the crisis last year

Two opposition activists in Nicaragua have been sentenced to more than 200 years in prison over their participation in anti-government protests last year.

Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena were found guilty of "terrorism".

More than 320 people were killed in clashes between the security forces and demonstrators as the government cracked down on the protests.

The government's response has been denounced by the United Nations.

Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena plotted the murder of four police officers and a teacher killed during a shoot-out outside a police station in the village of Morrito in July, judge Edgar Altamirano said.

The two farmers' leaders, he said, were the "intellectual authors" of the incident even though the two men were taking part in an anti-government march in the capital Managua, more than 200km (125 miles) away, at the time.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Anti-government protests were held throughout the country

The government said the police station in Morrito had been attacked by protesters during a march demanding that President Daniel Ortega step down but demonstrators said they had been shot at as they marched passed and only then returned fire.

Mairena and Mena were also found guilty of organised crime and terrorism.

'Exaggerated sentence'

While a 30-year cap on jail terms in Nicaragua means that the two men will not serve any longer than 30 years in jail, the length of the sentences handed down by the judge was described as "unprecedented" and "overly exaggerated" by their lawyer, Julio Montenegro.

The brother of Medardo Mairena, Alfredo, said the steep sentence showed the extreme cruelty of Daniel Ortega's government towards the farmers' movement.

"We've been a pillar against his dictatorship for the past five years, we're demanding democracy and respect of private property," he said, speaking from outside Nicaragua.

Read more about Nicaragua's crisis:

Another farmers' leader, Francisca Ramírez, said the sentence made a dialogue between Daniel Ortega's government and those opposing it impossible.

Her statement came just two days after the Nicaraguan government had spoken of "a need to come to an understanding" after officials met representatives of Nicaragua's business community and the Catholic Church.

"How does he want a dialogue when Medardo Mairena is sentenced to 216 years?" Ms Ramírez asked. "We're against a dialogue until all political prisoners are released."

Previous attempts at finding a solution to the crisis failed after those opposing Mr Ortega demanded early elections which the president, who has been in power for the past 12 years, ruled out.

The anti-government protests first started in April and quickly descended into violence as the security forces confronted demonstrators.

Hundreds of people have been jailed since and opposition activists speak of "persecution" and "the most severe crisis in generations" for human rights.

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Media captionWATCH: Nicaragua's human rights 'in crisis,' says Maradiaga

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