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Human Rights Watch accuses Nicaragua of torture against protesters, urges sanctions

MANAGUA (Reuters) – Pro-government forces in Nicaragua committed human rights abuses including torture in suppressing recent protests against President Daniel Ortega, and top officials should face sanctions, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday.

A demonstrator holds a portrait of Edward Lacayo, who was arrested during the protests against Ortega’s government last year, at a protest outside the “La Modelo” prison to demand the release of political prisoners in Tipitapa, Nicaragua June 19, 2019.REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

After demonstrations against Ortega broke out in April 2018, more than 700 people were arrested and 325 mostly opposition protesters died in clashes with security forces, creating the country’s worst crisis since a bloody civil war in the 1980s.

Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed 11 former detainees who had experienced a form of abuse, and had collectively witnessed the abuse of some 40 other people.

“Daniel Ortega has shown no real commitment to justice for the victims of the brutal crackdown by National Police and armed thugs during the 2018 protests,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The group called for sanctions such as freezing assets and banning travel for Ortega and various other senior officials.

The Nicaraguan government did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters for comment on the report.

Doctors interviewed by the organization said they treated dozens of people showing signs of physical harm consistent with abuse and torture described by the detainees.

The acts included rape, waterboarding, electric shocks, acid burns, mock executions and removal of fingernails.

“The cases we documented are consistent with a pattern of systematic abuse against anti-government protesters and opponents that international human rights bodies have reported,” Human Rights Watch said.

Last August, the U.N. human rights office said it had documented rights violations, including the disproportionate use of force and extrajudicial killings by the police, disappearances, widespread arbitrary detentions and instances of torture and sexual violence in detention centers.

Human Rights Watch also said that it could not find publicly available information indicating that any police officers or members of pro-government groups had been prosecuted for abuses.

The United States has sanctioned Ortega’s wife and Nicaraguan vice president, Rosario Murillo, as well as Ortega’s adult son, Laureano Ortega.

(This story refiles to fix garble in headline)

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City and Ismael Lopez in Managua

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