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Nicaragua strips citizenship from 94 political opponents


MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaragua cancelled the citizenship of 94 political opponents Wednesday, including writers Sergio Ramírez and Gioconda Belli.

Appeals Court Justice Ernesto Rodríguez Mejía read a statement that declared the 94 people to be “traitors” and said they had lost their Nicaraguan citizenship.

Mejía said their properties would be confiscated.

He said those on the list — among them rights activist Vilma Núñez, former Sandinista rebel commander Luis Carrión and journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro — were guilty of “spreading false news” and “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”

It was not clear what law the declaration was based on. Nicaragua’s congress has not yet fully approved a bill that would allow the government to strip people of their citizenship.

Most of those named have fled Nicaragua since President Daniel Ortega began arresting opponents two years ago, and Mejía said they had been declared “fugitives.” There was no mention of what might happen to those named who are still in Nicaragua.

The move comes days after Ortega packed off 222 imprisoned political leaders, priests, students, activists and other dissidents on a flight to the United States.

Shortly after, Ortega’s government voted to strip the expelled former prisoners of Nicaraguan citizenship.

Analysts, legal experts and human rights groups call it a political ploy. They contend it also violates international law and say it is unprecedented — at least in the Western Hemisphere — in terms of scale and impact.

Ramirez announced in 2021 that he would live in Spain, after Ortega's government tried to arrest him and banned his latest book. The 79-year-old writer served as vice president during Ortega’s first government from 1985 to 1990. But in the mid-1990s he distanced himself from Ortega, along with other intellectuals and former guerrillas.

Thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down mass antigovernment protests in 2018. Ortega says the protests were actually an attempted coup with foreign backing, aiming for his overthrow and encouraging foreign nations to apply sanctions on members of his family and government.

In the run-up to Ortega’s re-election in November 2021, Nicaraguan authorities arrested seven potential opposition presidential candidates to clear the field. The government also has closed hundreds of nongovernmental groups that Ortega accused of taking foreign funding and using it to destabilize his government.

Peter J. Spiro, an international law professor at Temple University, and others say stripping away citizenship in this context violates a treaty adopted in 1961 by countries in the United Nations, including Nicaragua, which sets clear rules meant to prevent statelessness.

The treaty states that governments cannot “deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.”

Spiro noted there are some circumstances when governments can terminate citizenship, such as ending nationality for someone who acquires citizenship in another country when the first nation prohibits dual citizenship. But, he said, ending citizenship is not allowed when it is used as a political weapon.

Spain has offered its citizenship to the 222 exiles, while the U.S. granted the Nicaraguans a two-year temporary protection.