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Nicaragua convicts 7 more opposition leaders of “conspiracy”

February 24, 2022 GMT
FILE - Protesters yell from behind the road block they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua, UPOLI, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, April 21, 2018. Nicaragua's National Assembly, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, outlawed four private universities on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Among the schools whose legal standing the assembly canceled was the UPOLI, which was a hotbed of antigovernment protests in 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)
FILE - Protesters yell from behind the road block they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua, UPOLI, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, April 21, 2018. Nicaragua's National Assembly, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, outlawed four private universities on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Among the schools whose legal standing the assembly canceled was the UPOLI, which was a hotbed of antigovernment protests in 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)
FILE - Protesters yell from behind the road block they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua, UPOLI, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, April 21, 2018. Nicaragua's National Assembly, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, outlawed four private universities on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Among the schools whose legal standing the assembly canceled was the UPOLI, which was a hotbed of antigovernment protests in 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)
FILE - Protesters yell from behind the road block they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua, UPOLI, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, April 21, 2018. Nicaragua's National Assembly, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, outlawed four private universities on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Among the schools whose legal standing the assembly canceled was the UPOLI, which was a hotbed of antigovernment protests in 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)
FILE - Protesters yell from behind the road block they erected as they face off with security forces near the University Politecnica de Nicaragua, UPOLI, in Managua, Nicaragua, Saturday, April 21, 2018. Nicaragua's National Assembly, controlled by President Daniel Ortega, outlawed four private universities on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Among the schools whose legal standing the assembly canceled was the UPOLI, which was a hotbed of antigovernment protests in 2018. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaraguan judges on Wednesday convicted seven opposition leaders, including former high-level Sandinistas and three former presidential contenders, of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”

A spokesperson for the Civic Alliance opposition coalition said the seven included Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro and the Central American country’s former ambassador to the United States, Arturo Cruz Sequeira.

All three had been planning to run in the Nov. 7 presidential elections before the government of President Daniel Ortega arrested them and around 40 other opponents.

With all of them in custody, Ortega cruised to winning a fourth consecutive presidential term in November elections widely criticized by the international community.

The string of recent trials of opposition figures has been carried out in the infamous Chipote prison. The defendants have only been permitted to have their lawyers present.

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The trials “have been full of violations of the law and violations of rights and due process, and therefore they are null and void trials, that have issued null sentences,” the Civic Alliance said in a statement.

Cruz Sequeira, 68, was one of three opposition figures suffering from health problems who were ordered to home confinement last week, after another imprisoned opponent died following months of incarceration.

Former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister José Pallais, 68, was convicted Wednesday. He has also been granted house arrest. Also convicted were business leader José Adán Aguerri, Violeta Granera and opposition leader Tamara Dávila.

Prosecutors claimed the seven had attempted to “conspire” against Ortega’s government by participating in a WhatsApp chat with a U.S.-based political analyst, Manuel Orozco.

Most of those convicted so far by Nicaraguan judges have later been sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Those already sentenced include Victor Hugo Tinoco, who was deputy foreign affairs minister during the first Sandinista government in 1979 but later split with Ortega. Tinoco also served as Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United Nations and was the lead negotiator in peace talks with the U.S.-backed Contras.

Hugo Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla leader who once led a raid that helped free then rebel Ortega from prison, died while awaiting trial. He was 73.

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