MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan police have arrested 13 opponents of President Daniel Ortega’s government, marking what opposition leaders derided as a new wave of repression against those seeking electoral reforms and early elections.
The opposition activists were detained on Thursday after they delivered bottled water and medicine, among other supplies, to a group of nine mothers in the city of Masaya who earlier that day launched a hunger strike to protest what they describe as the politically-motivated imprisonment of their sons.
Both government and police officials did not respond to requests for information about the arrests.
Family members, however, told Reuters that the police only told them that the activists had been arrested and were being investigated for unspecified crimes.
Nicaragua has been gripped by a political crisis since early 2018 when demonstrations broke out against Ortega, a Cold War-era U.S. foe and former guerilla leader, over planned cuts to welfare benefits.
The demonstrations have since grown into a broader protest movement, and more than 300 people have been killed by police or armed government-affiliated groups, rights groups say.
Including the latest arrests, Ortega’s government has jailed 151 political prisoners, according to the opposition Blue and White National Unity movement.
Thursday’s arrests took place just hours after Ortega gave a speech saying he was committed to democracy but vaguely warned that if elections were to somehow fail “the people will feel with all the right and the obligation to look for weapons to take power through the revolutionary way.”
Pablo Cuevas, a lawyer with the Managua-based Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), slammed the arrests as the work of an increasingly authoritarian government.
“Ortega is again using an iron fist against his opponents,” he said.
In his speech, Ortega, who has been president since 2007, did not say if early elections would be held.
The next presidential election is currently scheduled for 2021.
Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Jacqueline Wong