On July 5, 2021, Lesther Alemán, a student leader from the University of Central America and founder of the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN), a student activist group, was arrested in connection with his activism. He was later convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”
Alemán rose to prominence in the spring of 2018, as one of the leaders of the nationwide, largely student-led, protest movement seeking political reforms and the resignation of President Daniel Ortega. During a public dialogue meant to resolve the protests, Alemán directly confronted Ortega, demanding that he resign. The protests continued for months, with national troops firing on nonviolent student protesters at a number of institutions. Believing he faced significant personal risk, Alemán went into exile abroad in 2018; he returned to Nicaragua the following year, but remained in hiding for a number of months.
Following his July 5, 2021 arrest, Alemán was detained in Direction of Judicial Assistance prison, also known as El Chipote, where he reportedly suffered physical and psychological torture. Alemán’s trial took place inside the prison, and according to the Nicaraguan University Alliance, the chief piece of evidence used against him was his statement to Ortega during the 2018 dialogue. He was convicted of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” and sentenced on February 10, 2022 to 13 years in prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest, custodial torture, and conviction of a student activist, in retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which to which Nicaragua is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the arrest of nonviolent protesters undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
On February 9, 2023, Alemán was released, along with three of his AUN colleagues and about 200 other political prisoners, and sent to the United States.