The Nicaraguan Government of President Daniel Ortega has placed opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro under house arrest on charges of money laundering.
The 67-year-old Chamorro, a possible challenger to Ortega in November's elections, also had her house raided by police, according to her family. Chamorro is a journalist known for her actions in favour of press freedom.
Meanwhile, it is yet unknown whether Ortega will seek a fourth term in office.
Police raided Chamorro’s home in the capital, Managua, and after being on-site for more than five hours, they placed her “under house arrest, in isolation”, her brother Carlos Fernando Chamorro said on Twitter.
According to opposition politicians, Chamorro's arrest is a way to try to eliminate all of the most prominent opposition leaders, ahead of this year’s presidential elections in a country where two of the opposition parties have now been declared illegal.
A Managua court said earlier it had ordered her detention on accusations of “abusive management, ideological falsehood” and “the laundering of money, property and assets, to the detriment of the Nicaraguan State and society.”
Press reports said police forcefully kept Chamorro’s friends and family, as well as journalists, away from the scene.
On Tuesday, prosecutors had accused Chamorro of an array of crimes and asked for her to be barred from public duties, given that she is facing criminal proceedings. The accusations stem from Chamorro’s role as the head of a foundation for press freedom, with prosecutors claiming accounting “inconsistencies”.
Chamorro quit the foundation in February, refusing to comply with a new law obliging any person receiving money from abroad to declare themselves to the government as a “foreign agent”.
The prosecution opened an investigation against her on May 20 at the request of the government. She has rejected the accusations against her as a “farce” meant to prevent her from running in the November poll, which Ortega is widely expected to contest.
Chamorro, who does not belong to a political party, on Tuesday announced she would seek a nomination from the opposition. Shortly before police entered Chamorro’s home on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the Ortega government’s moves against Chamorro, and said the Central American country deserved “real democracy”.
“Arbitrarily banning opposition leader @chamorrocris reflects Ortega’s fear of free and fair elections. Nicaraguans deserve real democracy,” tweeted Blinken.
The Organization of American States issued a statement warning Nicaragua was “heading for the worst possible elections” and that “systematic and repeated violations of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms delegitimises the electoral process even before it takes place.”