Another potential presidential contender has been arrested in Nicaragua as President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on potential opponents in the lead-up to November elections continues.
Noel Vidaurre was put under house arrest and accused of “undermining the sovereignty” of the country, police said on Saturday, in the latest of a series of arrests condemned by the United States and European Union.
At least seven presidential hopefuls have been arrested in the crackdown that began in early June with a police raid on the home of journalist Cristiana Chamorro, the daughter of ex-President Violeta Chamorro.
Half a dozen other potential candidates have been arrested, while nearly two dozen other journalists and opposition activists have also been detained.
Almost all were arrested under “treason” laws that Ortega has used against political rivals and most face vague allegations of crimes against the state.
Ortega has justified the ongoing wave of arrests by saying his government is targeting criminals who are plotting a coup against him.
But civil society and human rights groups have accused the 75-year-old president – who governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990 and returned to power in 2007, winning two successive re-election bids since then – of increasing authoritarianism.
“The gravity and intensification of the Ortega government’s brutal crackdown on critics and members of the opposition in recent weeks require a redoubling of international pressure,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last month.
The US recently imposed fresh sanctions and visa restrictions on Nicaraguan officials over the crackdown, calling on Ortega’s government to respect the rule of law and ensure that free and fair elections can be held on November 7.
The European Union has said it was “inconceivable” the November elections “will be anything remotely approaching a democratic competition”.
Earlier this month, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said “more restrictive” measures may be needed against Ortega’s Sandinista government.
“The situation has reached such an extreme that member states will have to study more concrete actions, and not just ‘enough already, Mr Ortega,’” Borrell told a session of the European Parliament.
Vidaurre, 66, was one potential candidate for the Alianza Ciudadanos por la Libertad group standing against Ortega, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office.
Potential candidates Juan Sebastian Chamorro and Arturo Cruz have also arrested in recent weeks, while Lesther Aleman – a former student leader who returned to Nicaragua after exile but stayed in safe houses – has also been detained.
Presidential candidates will be able to register from July 28 to August 2.