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Nicaragua: Amendment to Code of Criminal Procedure Extends Pretrial Preventive Detention Period

(Mar. 11, 2021) On February 5, 2021, Law No. 1060, which amends Nicaragua’s Code of Criminal Procedure to extend the previous 48-hour pretrial preventive detention period for suspects, was published in the country’s official gazette and entered into force.

Law No. 1060 adds a new article 253 bis to the code, stipulating that the judicial authority, at the request of the government attorney, may detain suspects for 15 to 90 days to supplement information or gather sufficient evidence to support and file charges against the detainee. The amendment was reportedly approved by the Sandinista members of the National Assembly at the express request of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Opposition to Law No. 1060

Law No. 1060 was passed amid widespread rejection by constitutional law experts, human rights defenders, and local and international humanitarian NGOs, who have complained that arrested opponents of the government, whom they label as “political prisoners,” have spent several months in jail before being formally charged.

The Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet condemned the proposed law on February 3, 2021, as “contrary to [Nicaragua’s] Constitution and international standards.” The Constitution states that every detainee “has the right . . . to be released or brought before the appropriate (competente) authority within a forty-eight hour period subsequent to the arrest.” (Const. art. 33(2.2).) Bachelet objected to the law because it allows the government to detain people before investigating them and in order to investigate them, rather than requiring the government to investigate people first before deciding whether there are grounds to detain them. As a result, it “undermines the presumption of innocence and the right to know without delay and in detail what one is accused of . . . [and] puts at risk the integrity and security of so-called ‘judicial detainees,’ who will remain without effective judicial control.”

The opposition has also argued that the amendment to increase pretrial preventive detention is the most recent of a “package of repressive laws” passed during this election year, which includes

Human rights defenders maintain that the National Penitentiary System (SPN) does not currently have the necessary infrastructure to house people for an investigative period that has been extended from 48 hours to the 90-day period allowed under the new law, nor does it have the budget to improve its facilities and thus provide better conditions for those who spend more time in detention during an investigation. In addition, Martha Molina, a lawyer with expertise on corruption and the rule of law, has expressed fear that the amendment will be used by the Nicaraguan government to imprison opponents in the middle of the electoral year.