Nicaraguan justice authorities decided Thursday to prosecute presidential hopeful Cristiana Chamorro and others accused of money laundering, all of whom will be kept in preventive detention, just two months before the country’s general elections.
The government of President Daniel Ortega has been accused of political persecution for rounding up 34 opposition figures since the beginning of June, including seven aspiring presidential candidates.
Ortega is seeking a fourth successive term, and authorities have jailed some of his most high-profile opponents, while last month police raided the premises of a newspaper critical of the government.
The public prosecutor’s office, which made the announcement, did not say when the trial would begin.
Chamorro, 67, has been under house arrest since June 2 after prosecutors launched an investigation into the laundering of goods and assets through the foundation she ran for 20 years.
The nonprofit, named after her mother, former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, closed in February. It focused on training journalists and defending press freedom.
Chamorro has denied the charges against her and says Ortega’s government is seeking to prevent her from standing in the November 7 elections.
She was widely seen as the favorite to defeat Ortega.
According to the prosecutor’s office, in addition to Chamorro, her brothers Pedro Chamorro, who is in prison, and Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who is in exile, as well as seven former employees from the foundation — four of whom are fugitives — will also be prosecuted.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) condemned the authorities’ “secrecy” regarding the hearing and asked whether such hearings would continue “against the law.”
Nicaraguan law states that hearings must be public and in the judicial precinct.
CENIDH also hit out at the fact that the defendants’ relatives were not allowed to be present at the hearing or give food to those detained.
A former leftist guerrilla, Ortega previously governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 when the United States backed armed opposition to his Sandinista movement.
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro beat him in 1990 presidential elections. He returned to power in 2007 and has twice won re-election since then, accused of increasing authoritarianism by the opposition and NGOs.