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The Nicaraguan parliament, with a pro-government majority, ratified a constitutional reform on Monday that punishes “hate” crimes with life imprisonment, a step that according to critics of the Daniel Ortega regime seeks to criminalize opposition protests.
The initiative was approved by 70 votes of the ruling Sandinista Front (FSLN, left) and its allies, and rejected by 13 opponents, in a session held in the northern city of Darío, Azucena Castillo, a legislator from the opposition Constitutionalist Liberal Party, told AFP ( PLC, right).
The amendment to article 37 of the Constitution states that “exceptionally, a reviewable life sentence will be imposed for the person convicted of serious crimes, when there are hateful, cruel, degrading, humiliating circumstances that cause a commotion” in the country .
With this change, The major penalty in Nicaragua goes from 30 years to life imprisonment, although it does not specify what type of actions are included under the concept of “hatred”.
A law that regulates the article was still pending, as well as a reform in the Penal Code to incorporate the figure of life imprisonment.
For Castillo, the country “is not prepared” to impose such harsh penalties, due to the “discretion” with which the Nicaraguan justice acts.
General view of the deputies of the Nicaraguan Parliament in Managua (Nicaragua).
It is “open to all kinds of political interpretations,” said the deputy, who fears that the measure will further criminalize the opposition, whose activities are constantly branded by the government as acts of “hatred”, “terrorism” and “coup.”
The reform had been approved in a first vote in November, and needed this second to take effect.
Ortega, in power since 2007 and with the possibility of running for a fourth consecutive term in the November elections, promotes a series of laws that target his opponents, especially after the country was rocked in 2018 by months of protests that they asked for his resignation.
The Legislature approved a rule that criminalizes protests with up to 20 years in prison and another that regulates foreign contributions and resources that civil organizations receive from abroad, under the pretext of defending national sovereignty.
In October, Congress gave the green light to a cybercrime law that allows it to investigate, control and punish with jail the information that the government considers false or harmful.
And in December approved a rule so that “those who demand, exalt and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the State of Nicaragua” cannot run for popularly elected positions.
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