A judge’s decision this morning to incarcerate 40 taxi drivers without bond is being decried by defense lawyers as an act of “political repression” and “a message of state intimidation.”
“In Nicaragua, social protests are not allowed,” defense lawyer Manuel Urbina told local reporters after the judge ordered his clients to be held without bail until their trial starts in 11 days.
The taxi drivers were arrested Monday during a protest over gas subsidies in Managua. The protest turned violent when riot police tried to forcibly remove the taxi drivers from roundabouts where they had blocked traffic with parked cars and burning tires.
Four police officers and at least two taxi drivers were injured during the clashes. The injuries suffered by the cabbies came in a retaliatory beatdown by police after one officer was dragged underneath a car by a taxi driver who tried to flee the scene.
Gonzalo Carrion, a lawyer with the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), says the police’s retaliation against the taxi drivers was “vengeful” and “brutal.”
CENIDH says testimonies from the beaten taxi drivers is alarming.
Ivania de Socorro Roque told The Nicaragua Dispatch that her husband, Alexis Selva, 39, was beaten viciously by 10 cops in the back of a police truck. She had to speak on his behalf because her husband is in a hospital bed with his jaw wired shut. Roque says Selva’s jaw and teeth were broken with the butt of a rifle.
“Alexis is the only one in our family who has a job,” Roque said between tearful sniffles. “If he doesn’t work, our three children don’t eat.”
Roque says her young family is suddenly in a very precarious position. In addition to her husband’s injuries and arrest, their family’s taxi has been impounded by the police, she lamented.
Roque says the hospital room next to her husband’s is occupied by Lester Rodríguez, the taxi driver who ran over police officer Heriberto José Castro. Rodríguez, who is being accused of assault on an officer and destruction of public property, was pulled from his car and beaten by police after dragging Officer Castro several meters down the street.
Roque says police officers outside Rodríguez’s hospital room wouldn’t let her in to see him to determine if his injuries are as serious as her husband’s.
Demanding equal application of the law
CENIDH’s Carrion says if the state is going to hold 40 taxi drivers accountable for the violence of Monday’s protest, the police also need to identify the officers who acted with excessive brutality and call them on the carpet.
The problem, he said, is that the law is being enforced selectively in Nicaragua—both in the streets, with “selective police repression,” and in the courts.
“Putting all the taxi drivers behind bars en masse is also delivering a political message. The message is: If you protest, you are going to jail. And that is a message that is meant to intimidate other people,” Carrion told The Nicaragua Dispatch.