Ex-prisoner tells diplomats Nicaragua holding families 'hostage'

FILE PHOTO: Political prisoners from Nicaragua arrive near Dulles International Airport in Virginia
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By Sarah Morland

(Reuters) - "I said I would hand myself in, but the police kicked down the gate," Tamara Davila, a formerly jailed Nicaraguan activist on Wednesday told regional diplomats looking into allegations of abuses by President Daniel Ortega's government.

Davila is one of 222 political prisoners who were flown to the United States last month in a mass release, after which many were stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship.

She testified after a U.N.-appointed team of human rights experts on March 2 accused Ortega's government of crimes against humanity.

Davila told the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington that her daughter, aged five at the time, was present when police ransacked their home, officers beat her until she bled and dragged her into a patrol car.

"I didn't know where they were taking me," Davila said at the OAS meeting, which was streamed online.

She said her daughter, who remains in Nicaragua, had believed she was dead. "Hundreds of children and families in Nicaragua have lived this horror."

Davila said prisoners had suffered physical and psychological torture, and their families continue to receive threats and reprisals.

"The dictatorship is holding our families hostage," she said, adding that she and many others had lost property, pensions, academic records and been "struck off the civil registry itself, as if we did not exist."

Nicaragua's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

OAS ambassadors from across the Americas criticized Ortega's order to strip his critics of their citizenship and called for remaining political prisoners to be freed.

Ricardo Perez, president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), who also testified, said Ortega has repeatedly disregarded court rulings, accusing the court of seeking to remove his government.

These include an order shortly after Davila's 2021 arrest demanding her immediate release.

U.S. Ambassador to the OAS Francisco Mora said last month's mass release did not resolve underlying human rights concerns, and the move to strip people's citizenship "negates almost any goodwill this release may have generated."

Ortega, now aged 77, first came to power as a leader of the left-wing Sandinista guerrilla has been in and out of office over the years but took power again in 2007 and has ruled since.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Grant McCool)