Nicaraguan security services have been using weapons of war as part of a brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds, a report by Amnesty International claimed Thursday.
Nicaragua, under the rule of President Daniel Ortega, has been engulfed in demonstrations and clashes since April. More than 300 have been killed protesting against Ortega’s increasingly autocratic government, which has in turn unleashed a wave of violence against protesters.
According to Amnesty International, police and government-backed militias have used military-grade weapons against protesters who were mostly unarmed. The weapons documented include Russian-designed assault rifles with high-capacity drum magazines, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns and even rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
“[The report concludes] that a central plank [of the conflict]… was the Nicaraguan state’s persistent efforts to criminalize opponents,” Amnesty International said. “[It referred] to anyone who protested against the government as “terrorists” or “coup plotters” in an effort to justify its own violent actions.”
In addition, pro-Ortega forces are accused of regularly using torture, participating in extra-judicial executions and operating a “shoot to kill” policy. According to a previous Amnesty International report on Nicaragua, police used live ammunition to face off against a crowd of protesters, firing indiscriminately. The report noted that in the case of many of protester deaths, the bullets fired “are carefully aimed shots fired with precision at the head or jugular or chest.”
Protesters who are merely arrested, however, face similarly horrifying repression. According to the newest Amnesty report and the Telegraph, masked pro-Ortega militia groups have arbitrarily detained and tortured protesters and organizers, often detaining them indefinitely under the guise of anti-terrorism laws.
“Torture is being used not solely as an instrument of punishment, but as a means of dissuading others from protesting,” Carolina Jimenez, deputy director for research at Amnesty International, told the Telegraph. “It is one element in a strategy of lethal repression intended to terrorise the population.”
It’s not just protesters who are suffering either, reporters have also been targeted. In October Austrian-American journalist David Goette-Luciak was forcefully deported from the country, while Nicaraguan journalist Ángel Gahona was shot dead in May while livestreaming a protest.
One of the consequences of this political violence has been an increased flow of refugees into Costa Rica. In August, CNN reported that the small Central American nation had received 8,000 asylum applications since April, with 15,000 more waiting for later registration.