SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 19, 2023

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Americas | Nicaragua

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 19, 2023, Nicaraguan police arrested student leaders Adela Espinoza Tercero and Gabriela Morales. A third student activist, Mayela Campos Silva, was arrested two days later, on August 21.

The arrests occurred shortly after Nicaraguan authorities seized Central American University (UCA) on August 18 (see report), after accusing the institution of being a “center of terrorism.” Espinoza Tercera, who attended UCA, has been a student leader since the 2018 outbreak of protests against the Nicaraguan government. Morales was a student at Juan Pablo II University, a Jesuit institution whose status the government canceled in March 2023. Morales had participated in the 2018 protests, and prior to her arrest, she had reportedly expressed support for UCA. Campos Silva, is a third-year industrial engineering student at the National University of Engineering (UNI), who had also participated in student protests. She was arrested with her partner Joseph David Miranda Rodríguez, who was released after two days but barred from leaving the country.

Despite the fact that police arrested all three student activists separately, Nicaragua’s Prosecutors Office included them in a single court case and argued that they had been detained together. All three student activists were accused of propagating false news, undermining national integrity, and possessing marijuana. In November 2023, Espinoza Tercera and Morales were both found not guilty of the first two charges, but were convicted of the drug charges. According to media reports, the Ortega government has increasingly used charges of drug possession or trafficking to prosecute political prisoners. All three women remained in prison as of February 2024.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and conviction of student activists, in apparent 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.