Police arrested Ortega critic Suyen Barahona, leader of the left-wing opposition Unamos party on Sunday, after three other party officials were arrested by police over the weekend.
Barahona is among nearly a dozen opposition leaders as well as presidential candidates who were arrested or disqualified this month from the presidential race, to be held in November.
“It’s not just the potential candidates anymore, it’s the political leaders,” said former general and Sandinista dissident Hugo Torres. “This is not a transition to dictatorship, it is a dictatorship from all points of view. “
The crackdown began on June 2 when police raided the home of Cristiana Chamorro, journalist and presidential candidate, accused of money laundering shortly after announcing her intention to run for office.
At least 11 political leaders have been arrested, while journalists have also been questioned by authorities in recent weeks.
Ortega loyalists argue that the authorities are only enforcing the law.
Under legislation passed in December, Ortega’s government has the power to unilaterally declare citizens “terrorists” or putschists, classify them as “traitors to the homeland” and prohibit them from running as candidates.
The law punishes those “who carry out or finance a coup d’etat … encourage foreign interference, demand military intervention … propose or plan economic blockades, applaud and defend the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua or its citizens”.
But observers have accused Ortega, who has yet to confirm his intention to run for a fourth consecutive term, of seeking to rule out any challenger.
Nicaraguan police on Sunday said Barahona was arrested for seeking to undermine the country’s independence and sovereignty, as well as “inciting foreign interference in internal affairs, requesting military intervention and organization with foreign funding ”.
Unamos criticized the latest raids and arrests. “These actions against the leadership of Unamos are part of the Ortega regime’s escalating crackdown on the democratic opposition,” the party said in a statement.
Last week, a spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Guterres called on the Nicaraguan authorities to fully respect their international human rights obligations and release political leaders.
“These developments can seriously undermine public confidence in the democratic process ahead of the general elections in November,” Stéphane Dujarric told reporters.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price also said Ortega was “becoming an international pariah” and removing Nicaragua “from democracy”.
The United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against four Nicaraguan officials who support Ortega, including the president’s daughter, accusing them of undermining democracy and violating human rights.
“President Ortega’s actions are harming Nicaraguans and driving the country deeper into tyranny,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.