Journalist Elsa Espinoza found herself sitting in the dock at Managua’s Judicial Complex this Tuesday, September 22, accused of “threats”. Espinoza is a member of the executive committee of Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN).
In Bluefields, 355 kilometers away, another journalist, Kalua Salazar will appear in that courtroom on September 23, accused of “slander”. In both cases, those claiming to be the victims are people tied to the governing party. Given this, Nicaragua’s journalists warn of trials based on political interests.
On the eve of her trial, scheduled to begin at 8 am, Elsa Espinoza expressed the impotence she feels. She believes these legal mechanisms were initiated to “intimidate” and “silence” voices the Ortega regime finds uncomfortable. In this country, she stated, “justice doesn’t exist. The rule of the strongest is in force.” The fact that the courts have admitted these lawsuits is “a mockery to independent journalism.”
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In a corrupted justice system, the victim becomes the perpetrator
Espinoza recalled that before forming part of the PCIN, she maintained “a low profile”. However, as time passed, she began appearing more frequently in the media. As this happened, her neighbor, Maria del Pilar Vallejos, began constantly shouting names at her: “coup promotor” and “road-blocker”.
She ignored these insults, until one day Vallejos and her daughter “became violent and physically attacked me.” The journalist attempted to file a complaint in the District Seven Police Station in Managua. However, her aggressors arrived first, and Espinoza “went from being the victim to being the perpetrator,” she asserted.
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The police refused to receive her complaint, and at the end of April, the journalist received a citation. She was ordered to appear before the Second Local Penal Court of Managua, together with her mother. The crime they were accused of was “threats” against Vallejos. At the initial hearing, held on May 17th, the accusation was dismissed. However, the legal process was left open for “the accusing party to improve the narrative, which lacked consistency,” Espinoza explained.
Due to the friction with Vallejos, the journalist had to move to “avoid confrontations”. The house where she and her family lived was no longer a safe place. The trial against her has been “wearing”, emotionally as well as economically. This Tuesday, although she doesn’t have high expectations, at least the process will reach a conclusion.
The September 21 news program of the Bluefields radio station “La Costenisima”, includes a live record of a menacing call. In the middle of the program Tras la Noticia, a government sympathizer called the station.
While reporters spoke about the embargo of Channel 12, the caller seized the opportunity to say: “That same thing will happen to you.” La Costenisima has also been under near-constant siege by the police. Its press director, Kalua Salazar, is facing a trial for “slander”, based on her report: “Uncovering Corruption in the El Rama Mayor’s Office.” This report was published last August 4th.
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The trial against Salazar is scheduled for September 23. As in Espinoza’s case, “very little can be done.” The supposed victims – Julia Elena Zeledon Siu, Shamia del Socorro Ruiz, and Cinia Griselda Centeno- are all Sandinista militants. The case has received wide publicity in the official media.
The court didn’t even bother to notify her
Meanwhile, the journalist wasn’t even officially notified of the preliminary hearing that was held on August 19th. She found out about it through posts on the social networking site of a local media outlet.
The real goal of these judicial processes, Salazar emphasized, is “to frighten us, intimidate us, and silence us. To the point that – for our safety – we don’t continue transmitting the newscast. Or we stop working altogether out of fear.”
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Police harassment of the radio station has intensified as the trial against Salazar approaches. All this “creates situations we have to live with. But we don’t have to accustom ourselves to this, because independent journalism shouldn’t be criminalized,” Salazar continued.
There are still other journalists with pending trials. David Quintana of Boletin Ecologico and William Aragon both face complaints for the crimes of “slander and falsehoods”. In Quintana’s case, there was no official notice. He learned of the process against him when a lawyer was reviewing court lists and saw his name. Aragon did learn officially of the complaint filed against him last May 8th. It’s being processed in Somoto’s Local Criminal Court.
Organizations condemn the repression
On September 21, fifty international organizations denounced the Ortega-Murillo regime’s intensification of “repressive actions”. These actions are directed against women, human rights advocates, and journalists. The international organizations expressed concern for this “escalation” of the police repression against dissenting citizens.
In the first 14 days of September, organizations reported 165 aggressive acts aimed at women activists. These were “victims of detention, excessive force, home searches, criminalization, harassment, death threats, property damage, smear campaigns and stigmatization in the social networks,” stated the pronouncement.
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According to the pronouncement, there exists a generalized pattern of repression that “appears to be increasing”. The same pattern was observed during the two-year anniversary of the massive protests and mothers’ day march in Nicaragua.
The human rights violations documented by the local organizations have a clear goal, the international groups highlighted. They “can only be interpreted as a new attempt to intimidate everyone that opposes the policies of the public authorities.”