Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua’s vice president, who runs the government on a day-to-day basis, issued a warning to the independent press on July 7th.
She accused them of publishing “fake news” about health topics, using information from “fake doctors with fake prognoses,” activities subject to punishment under the regime’s Special Cybercrimes Law, popularly known as the “Gag law.”
“Fake doctors with fake prognoses, with fake surveys: fake news,” declared Murillo, also the country’s first lady, in her daily noontime address broadcast over all the official channels for well over a decade.
“We’ve told them before, those media outlets we call chachalacas [noisy birds found in Mexico and Central America], chattering magpies, dedicated to singing only of disaster, and – well – let me repeat: everything in life has its payback, we said it yesterday: no one is eternal, the life of human beings is one of transit,” Murillo stated in a veiled threat.
Threats of muzzling
The controversial Cybercrimes Law, which the independent press has baptized the “Gag” or “Muzzle” Law, went into effect on December 30, 2020. It establishes sentences of one to ten years in jail for citizens charged with cybercrimes harmful to “State security”.
The legislation, composed of 48 articles, proposes jail time for spreading fake news and/or distortions that produce alarm, terror, or unrest in the population, or in a group or sector of it, or to a family.
The law includes 25 definitions. However, according to warnings from critics, it leaves undefined two concepts that are key to its application: “Fake news” and “distorted information”.
According to the Independent Nicaraguan Journalists and Communicators Movement, that vacuum leaves the justice system, controlled by magistrates and judges allied with the Ortega regime, unlimited discretion to decide what is, or is not, fake news; or if the information produces alarm, fear or unrest.
Consequences of “alarming the population”
“To the chachalacas that enjoy, enjoy, doing damage on topics of Health, we say to them, they couldn’t ever, and they won’t be able to [succeed]. Calm down! Do you know why? Those chachalacas that enjoy alarming people, you know? Because everything in life has its payback, and if we do harm, harm will come to us” Murillo continued.
“Let’s not risk receiving the consequences of our actions. Let’s do good, so that good will come to all,” she added.
Scores of physicians and journalists have opted for exile since the first civic protests erupted in April 2018. They did so after receiving threats or persecution from Sandinista fanatics and government functionaries.
On June 25, Murillo led another charge against the journalists. She accused them of “inventing anything to seed terror”. She deemed them “malign”,” hypocrites”, “destroyers”, “criminals”, and “terrorists of communications”. She also thanked God that “only a few miserable examples are left.”
The VP and only government spokesperson further accused journalists of wielding “pens full of hate”, and assured that the government presided over by her husband, Daniel Ortega, views them in the same light.
“That’s how we see them, and that’s how we repudiate them,” Murillo sentenced. For her, the “chachalacas, the chattering magpies, every day invent anything to seed terror in people.”
Inter-American Press Association: the situation in Nicaragua “is extreme”
The president of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), Honduran native Jorge Canahuati, told the EFE agency in Madrid: “The situation in Nicaragua with respect to free expression has reached an extreme level.”
On Tuesday, July 6, the IAPA issued an “urgent” call to international organizations to “restore the freedoms in Nicaragua”. A virtual committee from that Miami-based organization termed Nicaragua “a country without law and without justice”.
Reporters without Borders have added the Nicaraguan president to a list of “pillagers of liberty” of the press, due to his policies of “economic suffocation” and “legal censorship” of the independent media.