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Amaya Eva Coppens, a Nicaraguan-belgian activist and medical student, was detained in León, Nicaragua on September 10, 2018. The police accused her of “terrorism,” “assaults,” and the “illegal possession of firearms.”
Together with the imprisonment of dozens of other activists, the arrest of Coppens is part of the latest wave of Nicaraguan authorities detaining activists, many of which are student members of the April protests. In April 2018, Nicaragua’s Ortega administration announced a social security reform that would increase workers’ tax contributions, and ultimately lead to a decrease in pensions. Nicaraguan pensioners, students, merchants, members of feminist and Campesino (farmer) movements, and other citizens protested the proposal until it was revoked 22 April 2018 by President Ortega.
Discontent with the Nicaraguan authorities’ violent handling of the demonstrations has resulted in ongoing protests since April 2018. The protestors demand the resignation of President Ortega and of Vice-president, Rosario Murillo, who is also Ortega’s spouse. Concerns of police violence, infringements on free speech, violations of indigenous peoples’ land rights and violence against women in the country are among the reasons people believe the government should resign.
According to the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (Asociación Nicaragüense Pro Derechos Humanos), the Nicaraguan authorities’ violent response to the protests has resulted in the deaths of over 500, the injury of over 4,000 and the detention of over 1,400 individuals since April 2018. The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights (Centro Nicaragüense por los Derechos Humanos), as well as the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, criticize the detention of Coppens and other activists.
Coppens was held in incommunicado detention for nine days. This means that she was denied access to a lawyer, family members, or an independent physician. She has now been transferred to the women’s prison “La Esperanza” in Tipitapa. According to a statement from her father, despite a visit from her parents being monitored and filmed by prison staff, Amaya managed to communicate that she was beaten up while in detention. She also revealed that she has not been tortured due to her diplomatic position as a Belgian citizen. However, her fellow Nicaraguan prisoners may not be immune to this treatment. A Nicaragua Today article described the conditions in the prison as “inhumane” and reported that prisoners are denied medical attention despite some of them enduring critical illnesses such as terminal cancer.