The Nicaraguan Attorney General’s investigation of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro organization amounts to “a criminalization” of journalism. This investigation has moved to summon independent journalists, media directors and former employees of the Foundation to “testify”.
“This is all part of a campaign against independent reporters and media that are bothersome to Daniel Ortega,” maintains journalist Violeta Chavez, former director of the 100% Noticias television news channel.
Veronica Chavez is one of the journalists who were summoned to testify on Tuesday, May 25, by the Public Prosecutor’s office. She spoke of this experience during an interview with the online television news show, Esta Noche.
Chavez asserted that the regime is unhappy about the independent press’s denunciations of the grave human rights abuses being committed in Nicaragua. These include abuses recently committed against government opponents, and those that were uncovered during the Ortega regime’s repression and massacre of those involved in the April 2018 social protests.
The Prosecutor’s office questioned Chavez about the relationship between 100% Noticias and the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. The latter was an NGO that carried out different projects in support of the media. Their projects took place within a system where the regime channeled all government advertising through the official media, controlled by the Ortega-Murillo family.
On Wednesday, May 26, the Attorney General’s office confirmed that it was investigating the VBC Foundation for alleged “money laundering”. They claimed the investigation had been sparked by supposed inconsistencies in their accounting reports from 2015 – 2019. The Foundation, on the other hand, alleges that these same reports were received and approved within the prescribed deadlines, by the Interior Ministry, which regulates the functioning of all NGOs operating in Nicaragua.
Regarding the relationship between 100% Noticias and the Foundation, Chavez indicated that in past years the VBC Foundation had offered them “some workshops, trainings and things like that”.
Over a dozen independent journalists have already been interviewed, or summoned by the Public Prosecutor’s office this week. They’re allegedly being called in as witnesses in the investigation of the Foundation’s supposed money laundering activities. The VCB Foundation itself closed its doors and officially ended operations in February 2021, in protest against the enormous impediments posed by the “Foreign Agents’ Law. That law was approved by the Nicaraguan National Assembly in the final months of 2020, one in a series of punitive laws.
The investigation being launched, with no formal charges and no evidence, appears to be aimed against presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, who served as the Foundation’s director before its closure.
Nicaraguan journalists and national and international organizations that work in defense of free press and expression have expressed their “deep concern”. They see these actions as part of a new wave of repression by the Ortega regime, aimed against Nicaragua’s independent press.
Among organizations and prominent figures expressing such concerns are the Inter-American Press Society; Pedro Vaca, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Free Expression; and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.
Attack on Veronica Chavez remains uninvestigated
Veronica Chavez, former100% Noticias director, issued her own demand to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. She asked them for information on the progress of their investigation of the stone-throwing attack she suffered in October 2020, during an opposition activity in Masaya. She called it “a homicide attempt” on the part of the Ortega-allied mobs. The journalist was hit on the head with a rock and had to be admitted on an emergency basis to the “Humberto Alvarado” Hospital in that city. She suffered hemorrhaging and a cranial fissure.
At that time, opposition leader Miguel Mora, Chavez’ husband, alleged that the attack against his wife had been premeditated. He noted that the National Police had been coordinating the paramilitary groups that attacked the opposition that day.
Veronica Chavez assures that the Prosecutor’s office never carried out any kind of official investigation to determine who the attackers were. Those who assaulted the opposition group did so in full view of police authorities at all times. Despite this, the police did nothing to stop the attack or detain those guilty.
“We remind you that the Public Prosecutor’s Office should defend us, and should be independent. Their past conduct doesn’t support this principle. Previously, they’ve lent themselves to issuing false accusations for a large quantity of young people, who today are political prisoners,” Chavez noted.
“I’ve been one of their victims, because they’ve falsely accused us. Instead of realizing their debt to the people and investigating appropriately, they allow themselves to raise up falsehoods, libel, slander, and to fabricate false legal charges that have nothing to do with reality,” Veronica Chavez added.
Chavez and her husband, Miguel Mora, have suffered near-constant attacks. Mora, together with journalist Lucia Pineda were imprisoned in December 2018 and held for 6 months. Their television studio was illegally confiscated. 100% Noticias has managed to continue functioning via social media platforms. Lucia Pineda currently directs the station from Costa Rica.