Nicaragua releases dozens of political prisoners

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Jesus Tefel and Olama Hurtado take a selfie with members of the Nicaraguan Civic Alliance after their release from "El Chipote" prison, where they were held for delivering water to hunger-striking mothers of political prisoners

Nicaraguan authorities on Monday released more than 30 political prisoners held following a deadly crackdown on 2018 protests in the Central American country, a human rights body said.

Among those released was Belgian-born student leader Amaya Coppens, her family and a local rights organization said.

Coppens was arrested in mid-November for being part of a group of volunteers trying to deliver water to hunger-striking mothers of political prisoners.

The student activist's aunt Sophie Coppens said on her Facebook page: "I've just had my brother on the phone. Amaya has just been released. How and why, I don't know yet."

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights chief Pablo Abrao announced the releases of "at least 32 people," saying it was "good news for Nicaragua."

Julio Montenegro, the head of Defenders of the People, a local humanitarian organization, said Coppens and the others would be held under house arrest and had been handed over to the families.

"We're going out, we made it," Olga Valle, one of the prisoners, told reporters.

The government made no announcement of the release.

The opposition Civic Alliance, behind a push to have all those arrested during the crisis released by Christmas, said 148 political prisoners were being held in Nicaraguan jails up to December 27.

Regime forces and pro-government militias have been blamed for more than 300 deaths since April last year, when protests against the rule of veteran leftist President Daniel Ortega mushroomed into an uprising that was brutally suppressed.

Critics accuse Ortega, a former rebel hero who has been in power since 2007, of running a repressive dictatorship. He was most recently elected in 2016 for a mandate that would keep him in office until 2021.

Jose Aguerri, the president of the country's business association, said on Twitter that the releases were due to lobbying from the Apostolic Nuncio, Stanislaw Waldemar.

The Catholic Church played a leading role in mediating talks aimed at resolving the crisis that Ortega broke off in July.