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In a continued crackdown on dissent, Nicaragua strips 94 people of their citizenship

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Nicaragua, the government of President Daniel Ortega is ramping up its attacks on political dissidents.

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

Last week, Nicaragua banished 222 political prisoners. The country took away their citizenship, put them on a plane and sent them to Washington, D.C. This week, it is continuing those attacks, stripping nearly 100 more dissidents of their citizenship.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta is following this story from his base in Mexico City. Good morning, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So before we get into the stripping of citizenships, let's go back. If you could just give us a sense of what's led to this point.

PERALTA: Yes. So President Daniel Ortega is a former guerrilla fighter. He helped topple a dictatorship in the '70s. He's been president twice. And in 2018, there was this huge popular rebellion against him. And that's when things changed dramatically in Nicaragua.

Ortega used violence to quash that pro-democracy movement. And then he consolidated power. He and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, now control all three branches of government. And these past two weeks, they've been flexing that muscle. Without a public trial, the government has branded many dissidents as traitors.

On Wednesday, a judge said that 94 Nicaraguans - and these include human rights activists, writers, journalists - had been sentenced to what amounts to a civic death. A judge said that they had been stripped of their nationality. They said the government was taking over their possessions and that these people would no longer have any rights in Nicaragua for the rest of their lives.

FADEL: How common is it to denationalize citizens?

PERALTA: You know, I spoke to Gabriel Chin, and he studies nationality at UC Davis, and he says that this became a thing after the First World War. And what the world realized is that leaving someone stateless was terrible. So the right to nationality was accepted as a universal human right. He says what the Ortega regime has done is a, quote, "clear violation of international human rights law." And he pointed to a case in the United States that shows how serious the situation is. After the First World War, a U.S. soldier was stripped of his nationality for deserting the military in the battlefield. But the Supreme Court actually ruled that this was cruel and unusual punishment. Let's listen.

GABRIEL CHIN: The Army could have sentenced him to death. They could have executed him. But it's cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to have denied him any nationality whatsoever. And that's because the Supreme Court recognized the terrible consequences of being stateless.

PERALTA: And being stateless - let's be clear - means that you lose your right to have rights. At the time, the majority on the Supreme Court wrote that denationalization was, quote, "a form of punishment more primitive than torture."

FADEL: So what are some of the banished saying?

PERALTA: I'm hearing a lot of defiance, but also uncertainty. And it's not clear yet what's going to happen to dissident Nicaraguans who remain in the country. Nicaragua is a country that defines itself through its poets - they're national heroes there. And now this government has banished two literary giants, Sergio Ramirez and Gioconda Belli. And Belli is a poet, and she didn't release a statement. Instead, she pointed to one of her poems.

And I'll translate a stanza for you. She writes, (reading, in Spanish) - and I love you, country of my dreams and my sorrows. And I'll take you with me to wash away your stains in secret. I'll whisper with hope, and promise you cures and spells that will save you. The name of that poem is "Nicaragua."

FADEL: Eyder Peralta in Mexico City - thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.