A report on press freedom in Nicaragua has documented 80 violations to freedom of expression just in August 2021, in a persistent attack on the independent press that includes the police assault on the newspaper La Prensa, judicial harassment and persecution of journalists at the hands of the Ortega regime, in what constitutes “the worst historical context for the exercise of journalism.”
According to the document, prepared by La Prensa and circulated recently, in that month the assault was carried out on the facilities of the newspaper, the dean of national journalism with its 95 years of history, whose directors are investigated for the fabricated crimes of money laundering and customs fraud.
This means that, in a month, the Ortega regime perpetrated more than two daily violations against freedom of expression in Nicaragua. Since 2018, when it harshly repressed citizen demonstrations against them, leaving at least 328 killed, the Executive launched a crusade against critical journalism and also confiscated the facilities of Confidencial and 100% Noticias.
The report is published three months after Ortega, and the institutions subordinate to him, began the repressive escalation that has kept 36 opposition leaders in jail, including seven presidential candidates since the end of last May.
In this group of political prisoners there are journalists, civic leaders, students and opposition leaders, whose relatives have denounced fabricated charges and the deprivation of their rights in processes characterized by irregular hearings, without their defense lawyers having access to the files, while the inmates are isolated and subjected to human rights violations.
The report titled “Violations of press freedom” records the imprisonment of the general manager of La Prensa, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, who is prosecuted by the State for alleged money laundering, a case that Ortega promoted the same day that police patrols were taking over the facilities of the newspaper. The day before the Police operation, La Prensa denounced the withholding of its paper by Customs.
With Holmann, as with the rest the opponents, Ortega has advanced a condemnation in his public speeches, pointing to them as instruments of interventionism and accusing them of lending themselves to the interests of imperialism to overthrow him.
The strongman argues for the right to sovereignty and self-determination, refuses to answer for human rights violations committed massively since 2018, and orders a series of trials against opponents under the thesis that he was the subject of an attempted coup d’état financed by the United States.
“Eighty cases of press freedom were documented; 58 were perpetrated against the media outlets (72.5%) and 22 against individuals (27.5%),” the document explains.
The document produced by La Prensa follows the same methodology that professionals of the extinct Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation rigorously carried out until last April, to document the abuses committed by Ortega between 2017 and 2021, in terms of press freedom, on a quarterly basis.
The Foundation, whose main objective was the defense of press freedom, closed after the approval of the Foreign Agents Law that criminalized the work of civil society organizations. The regime accuses the Foundation of money laundering, pointing in particular to its former president Cristiana Chamorro, also a presidential hopeful, currently held incommunicado under house arrest; and three other workers who are detained in the cells of “El Chipote.” All are part of the list of more than 150 political prisoners, whose release is demanded by local and international human rights organizations and countries of the European Union, the United States, Canada, among others.
Over 50 journalists questioned by Prosecutors
The conclusion of the report is clear when describing the unfortunate times that national journalism experiencing, in which the aggressors, in most cases, are agents of the State, a constant factor in the last eight months.
But, in addition, it mentions that 57 journalists have been called for questioning in the case of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. In August alone, 10 communicators were stigmatized in interrogations conducted by the Prosecutor’s Office controlled by the Ortega regime.
“At present, we are facing the worst historical context in the history of Nicaragua to exercise journalism. With the raid and closure of La Prensa facilities, the Sandinista regime clearly surpasses the Somoza dictatorship and outdid itself. Both dictatorships (that of Somoza and the first Sandinista of the 80s) were cruel, violated human rights, suppressed freedom of expression and of the press, and everything that implies the dissemination of free thoughts and ideas,” it noted.
Although it is recognized that 91 percent of the cases of press freedom violations occurred in Managua, they emphasize those that occurred in the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast and Estelí, which are objects of concern.
“For the fifth consecutive month the press officer of Radio La Costenisima, journalist Kalua Salazar, is the victim of obsessive harassment by the police authorities of Bluefields, who on three occasions in this month came to besiege her house in the wee hours of the night,” it adds.
They point out self-censorship
Another of the effects caused by Ortega’s crackdown described in the report, is self-censorship. They list the case of Radio Corporacion, where the programs Confidencial Radio and Onda Local were broadcast, suspended after the investigations opened by the State against the directors of both media outlets, in an attempt by the regime to criminalize the exercise of journalism.
“We suspend the programs of people who are under investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office. That is all (…). We, the management, are forced to temporarily suspend them while this is solved at the level of Justice, because we do not want to risk the closing of the radio. There are 50 workers who depend on it,” assured Alfonso Baldioceda, press director of Radio Corporacion.