On September 10, 2018, Nicaraguan forces reportedly detained Amaya Eva Coppens, a fifth-year medical student at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, of León (UNAN-León),in apparent retaliation for her participation in a nationwide protest movement.
Since April 2018, students across Nicaragua have led demonstrations protesting austerity measures, demanding democratic reforms, and calling for President Daniel Ortega to step down. At least 317 people have been killed and more than 1,870 injured during the protests, including many students.
Coppens, a Belgian-Nicaraguan dual citizen, has been an active participant in the protests, as one of the leaders of the 19th of April Student Movement in the city of León and also as a member of the University Coalition for Democracy and Justice (CUDJ), Civil Alliance, and Social Movements Network. Since the protests began, Coppens reported receiving death threats over social media and being subjected to other forms of harassment and intimidation, including a violent message written outside her home. Due to the threats, Coppens reportedly decided to leave her home and reside in a safe house temporarily.
On September 10, police officers and twenty masked paramilitary officers raided a safe house in downtown León and detained Coppens and another protester, Sergio Midence. Officers brought Coppens and Midence to a prison known as “El Chipote.” Coppens was allegedly denied access to family or legal counsel. Students who have recently been released from “El Chipote” describe having been subjected to torture while in detention. Coppens’ family and lawyer were not notified of her detention until September 11.
On September 19, a court charged Coppens with kidnapping, terrorism, and illegal possession of firearms. This was the first day Coppens was allowed to speak to her lawyer and family. Coppens has since been transferred to a women’s prison outside of Managua. Her next hearing is scheduled for October 10, 2018.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of a student in apparent retaliation for nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nicaragua is a party. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with these rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Detentions and prosecutions aimed at limiting such activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.