MANAGUA – NicaraguanItalian missionary Alberto Boschi fled tohis native Italy last week after Nicaraguan judges sentenced him to a year in prison for illegally carrying a firearm and inciting violence during a political protest last July.
A member of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), Boschi says the charges and trial against him were based on false information.
“It’s not worth dying in a Nicaraguan prison,” Boschi told The Nica Times this week in a phone interview from Italy.
Though opposition leaders say Boschi is the first political prisoner under the Ortega government, Urbina says the trial was carried out according to Nicaraguan law. The Sandinista judge said politics was not an issue during the trial.
“Politicians always think in terms of politics,” Urbina told The Nica Times. “What I’m obligated to do is comply with the law. I don’t know if a culprit is a Liberal, from the MRS, a Sandinista, or poor or rich.”
Earlier this year, Boschi had planned on running for the mayoral seat of Ciudad Sandino, but was prohibited after the government banned his party from participating in the Nov. 9 elections. Boschi then helped lead an opposition protest in Managua against the government ban on July 30.
The protest turned violent when progovernment supporters clashed with protesters.
While reporting on the protest, Antenor Peña, a journalist for the governmentrun Multinoticias Channel 4 TV, was injured.
Though Channel 4 originally reported Peña had been shot, Judge Urbina said he was injured with a rock.
Regardless, on Nov. 27, Boschi was sentenced to six months in prison for carrying an illegal firearm and another six months for inciting violence that led to Peña’s injury.
Sandinista-owned media outlets said Boschi had told protesters to attack, an allegation Boschi said is as ludicrous as the testimony from five trial witnesses who said he was carrying a firearm during the protest.
Witnesses testified that an armed Boschi transported protesters – some of them employees at the high school he runs – to the protest, where they clashed with Ortega supporters.
“He was heading the protest,” Urbina said.
Boschi said he left Nicaragua to return home to Italy Dec. 7 – while his case is being appealed here – and says he’s not sure he’ll come back, even if his sentence is overturned. “The problem is I’ll always have deaththreats against me,” he said. He said he has information that hitmen were hired to take him out.
“I came to be a Catholic missionary, but they’ve made it impossible for me,” he said. Since the beginning of the trial, Boschi has been required to appear at court every two weeks, a preventive measure he has met up until now. Judge Urbina said there is no immigration restriction on Boschi, so he was free to leave the country as long as he signs in with the courts every two weeks.
But Boschi may not be planning on returning anytime soon.
“I’m in exile,” he said. Boschi moved to Nicaragua in 1994 as a Catholic missionary and has since helped build a high school in Ciudad Sandino, north of Managua. After receiving Nicaraguan citizenship in 2006, he backed the MRS party, whose ranks are filled with former Sandinistas who have fallen out with Ortega.
“Clearly the government of Daniel Ortega has decided to pass the bill to all who aren’t aligned with him,” Boschi said.
Boschi said his conviction sets a dangerous precedent for political freedoms under Ortega, and he fears a crackdown on fellow dissidents, namely Israel Lewites, the nephew of former MRS leader and frontrunning presidential candidate Herty Lewites, who died of a heart attack before the 2006 presidential election.
Critics of the Ortega government say Boschi’s trial was an “outrage” and that his conviction is meant to intimidate opposition political leaders and activists.
Though the Ortega government has drawn fire for going after dissidents in the Sandinista-controlled courts, opposition leaders say Boschi may be the first “political prisoner” sentenced by the second coming of the Sandinista government.
“He’ll be a political prisoner, that’s the truth,” said MRS leader Dora María Téllez, a former guerrilla leader and exhealth minister under the first Sandinista government, who has since defected from Ortega’s Sandinista Front.
Téllez launched a hunger strike last June to protest the government’s ban on her party from participating in the Nov. 9 municipal elections.
Though the opposition has accused Ortega of heading the country toward dictatorship, the president in the past has defended his rule as democratic by pointing out that under his administration there have been “no political prisoners.”
That’s not the case anymore, Boschi said.
The government’s news Web site called Boschi a member of the “Return to Somoza Movement,” a mock of his Sandinista Renovation Movement party affiliation – labeling it sympathetic to the rightwing dictator Anastasio Somoza – and implied that he was a foreign meddler.
“Despite being a foreigner, Boschi has been seen participating in political activities,” the government site said.
Boschi said foreign governments should yank aid to Nicaragua to pressure the Ortega government to respect political freedoms.
“No one should give another cent to this government,” he said.