Eight Nicaraguan 'political prisoners' on hunger strike


Managua (AFP)

Eight jailed opponents of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega have been on hunger strike for a week in protest at being used as "a bargaining chip," the father of one of the detainees told AFP.

They were among more than 750 people detained for taking part in anti-government demonstrations last year -- during a political crisis that also left 325 dead between April and October after a brutal crackdown by authorities.

Frederic Coppens, the Belgian father of detained Amaya Coppens, said he found out on Wednesday that his daughter and her seven cellmates "began a hunger strike a week ago."

He said it had taken that long for the prisoners to communicate with him secretly. They are "protesting against being used as a bargaining chip in the process of political negotiations," he added.

Talks between Ortega's government and the opposition began on February 27 in a bid to find a solution to the crisis. Previous peace talks that began last May broke down a month later after Ortega rejected a key opposition demand to stand down and bring forward presidential elections.

Before the new round of talks, due to last until March 28, the government released dozens of prisoners held during the six months of protests last year, although no prominent opposition leaders were among them.

That was the same day the eight began their hunger strike.

Amaya Coppens, a 24-year-old medical student, was arrested in September and is accused of terrorism and other offences under a controversial law that bans protests.

Her father said the hunger strikers are insisting that "all the political judgments should simply be annulled and the liberation of all political prisoners should be a prerequisite to the start of negotiations."

"After six months of incarceration in despicable conditions, she's not in good health, she's suffering from hypertension," Coppens said of his daughter.

He hit out at prison authorities for claiming "everything is normal" when he visited the establishment earlier this week to leave provisions for his daughter, claiming they had "tried to hide this new situation."

Coppens has asked Belgian authorities for diplomatic help to get his daughter seen to by "independent doctors."

The mothers of the hunger strikers, meanwhile, demanded the liberation of political prisoners in a press conference in the capital Managua on Thursday.

They asked for the Red Cross to intervene on their behalf so a doctor can visit their daughters.

"There cannot be talks while our daughters are dying," a tearful Tamara Zamora, Amaya's mother, told AFP.