The prison guards arrived at 2 a.m. to wake up Scannierth Merlo Lacayo, saying it was time to change the cells.
But then he saw other political prisoners move and disperse. "They were giving everyone new pants, shirts, cutting their hair," he said.
Then, Mr. Merlo saw representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Red Cross and realized that the moment he had been waiting for for 14 months had finally arrived: he and dozens of other political prisoners in Nicaragua were released after months of international clamor.
His sudden release on Monday came after the United States government strengthened sanctions against the authoritarian government of Daniel Ortega, tightening a financial knot around a regime that has been condemned worldwide for its repression against dissent. .
"I had been sentenced to five years for allegedly stealing the identity document of a member of the Sandinista party. Card, but the real reason was because I was against the government, and I will continue to be against the government," Merlo said in a Telephone interview shortly after release.
Mr. Merlo's mother, Diana Lacayo, was among nine women who started a hunger strike last month to demand the freedom of their loved ones.
The women took refuge in a Catholic church, but their protest quickly went wrong when the government cut off its power and water supply and surrounded the building with police officers. The women and several supporters were trapped for nine days as their supplies declined.
A group of people who brought them water were arrested and charged with arms trafficking. Known as the "aguadores,quot;, they were also released on Monday.
Brenda Gutierrez, who runs a family support group, said 65 of the 148 political prisoners in Nicaragua had been released late in the morning. Many of them had been accused of crimes such as arms trafficking, drug trafficking and theft after participating in a large-scale uprising last year.
It was not clear if more people would be released as the day progressed, he said.
Government issued a statement saying that 91 people were released as a gesture of national reconciliation. But he suggested that his sentences were becoming a form of house arrest, rather than all charges being dropped.
Protests broke out in Nicaragua in April 2018, initially for cuts to social security. When government supporters attacked elderly protesters, students from across the country took to the streets in protest. Soon, hundreds of thousands of protesters held demonstrations, blocked traffic and seized universities.
The focus of the protests soon moved beyond social security to the broader issue of democracy. Ortega, the president, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, are accused of running a draconian government that has cheated in the elections. The government eliminated the opposition, removed the mandate limits and took severe measures against dissent.
Protesters have demanded his expulsion.
Hundreds of people died in the months of protests, including 22 police. The government unleashed extensive police actions to overthrow roadblocks and recover universities. More than 500 people were jailed.
Opposition activists in the country rarely dare to protest publicly.
"This is a great day for Nicaragua, because it shows what we had been saying all along: there are political prisoners in Nicaragua," said Martha Alvarado, whose 30-year-old son, Melkissedex A. López Ferrey, was also released from prison. "We never lost faith, and we will not give up until everyone is free."
Alfonso Flores Bermúdez contributed reporting from Managua, Nicaragua.