The release was hailed as ‘excellent’ news amid the Nicaraguan government’s crackdown on opposition figures and critics.
Nicaragua has freed 222 prisoners, many of whom were considered political prisoners of the government of longtime Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, and are on their way to the United States, a senior U.S. official said.
“Some of these individuals have spent years in prison, many of them for exercising their fundamental freedoms, in atrocious conditions and without access to due process,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in a statement on Thursday.
The Nicaraguan government did not immediately confirm the release.
The New York Times reported that the US government sent a plane to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua to transport the freed prisoners to Washington, DC. The flight is expected to arrive around noon local time (17:00 GMT).
Ortega has claimed that his jailed opponents and others are behind the 2018 protests, which he says were part of a plot to oust him.
Tens of thousands of people have fled into exile – mostly to neighboring Costa Rica – since Nicaraguan security forces cracked down on those anti-government demonstrations.
Recently, the US and the European Union accused Ortega of launching a new campaign of unjustified arrests ahead of the 2021 elections, as dozens of opposition leaders and presidential candidates have been detained.
US President Joe Biden’s administration denounced the vote, in which Ortega won a fourth consecutive term, as a “fraud” – and Washington and its allies imposed new sanctions on the government in Managua.
Many of those arrested were sentenced to long prison terms, often on charges of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity”.
In June of last year, then United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the situation in Nicaragua was deteriorating amid arbitrary detentions, harsh prison conditions, lack of due process, increased state control of academic institutions and non-profit organizations. organizations and restrictions on freedom of association.
“I strongly urge the government of Nicaragua to respect – not deviate from – its human rights obligations. I call on the authorities to immediately stop the policies that today only serve to isolate the country and its citizens from the regional and international community,” she said.
On Thursday, a senior official of the Biden administration said that the US had facilitated the transportation of the released persons to the country, where they would be paroled for a period of two years for humanitarian reasons.
The official said the US government views the mass release as a positive step by Nicaragua, adding that all those who left the Central American country did so voluntarily and will receive medical and legal assistance upon arrival in the US.
Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s former envoy to the Organization of American States, who resigned from his post last year over the Ortega government’s human rights record, hailed the release of the prisoners as “excellent” news.
“Hallelujah, glory to God,” McFields said video posted on Twitter.
Family members of some of those freed have confirmed that their loved ones are flying to Washington, DC.
Berta Valle, wife of opposition leader Felix Maradiaga, said the State Department told her her husband was on the plane, The Associated Press reported.
Georgiana Aguirre-Sacasa, the daughter of former Nicaraguan foreign minister Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa, also told The Guardian that her father was among those freed.
“This is huge,” she said. “This has been a very long process for us and I just can’t believe it.”
It was not immediately known which other prisoners were released.