Rights group: Nicaragua plans charges for detained activists

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Nicaragua Hunger Strike

Father Edwin Roman attempts to convince the police to allow relatives of imprisoned and dead anti-government demonstrators to enter the San Miguel Arcangel Church in Masaya, Nicaragua, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. The relatives have started a hunger strike to demand the freedom of their relatives, jailed for protesting against the government of President Daniel Ortega. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Authorities will file charges against a group of anti-government opposition activists, including 13 who were arrested for supporting protesters demanding freedom for people they consider political prisoners, a rights group said Sunday.

María Oviedo, a lawyer with the Permanent Commission on Human Rights in Nicaragua, said charges would be formally presented Monday. There was no immediate word on what crime or crimes might be charged, or what sort of punishment the activists could face.

The 13 were detained Thursday when they tried to enter Masaya’s San Miguel church to deliver water to the hunger strikers. Police have maintained a tight cordon around the area, and water and electricity services have been cut.

Among those arrested is Belgian-Nicaraguan student Amay Coppens, who was imprisoned for nearly a year for taking part in anti-government protests in 2018.

Opposition leaders say Nicaragua is holding 138 political prisoners, after about 700 were released earlier this year.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes told journalists he was attempting to get authorities to let the dozen or so people inside the church leave. He added that Pope Francis “privately” asked Nicaragua to free before Christmas all those detained for political reasons.

President Daniel Ortega’s government denies jailing prisoners of conscience and has repeatedly accused opposition protesters of being coup plotters and terrorists.

The Organization of American States expressed “concern and condemnation” over the recent arrests.

Protests demanding Ortega leave office and allow early elections erupted in April 2018 and were met with a crackdown by security forces and armed, allied civilian militias.

At least 328 people were killed, 2,000 wounded, hundreds detained and 88,000 fled into exile, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.