London, March 5, 2020 – The harassment and aggressive acts against journalists and especially against the president of the Nicaraguan PEN Center, Gioconda Belli, which occurred in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua during the memorial mass for the theologian and poet Ernesto Cardenal, demonstrate once again that Daniel Ortega’s government continues criminalizing the right to dissent, and the right to freedom of expression and of the press. PEN International issued an urgent call to the Nicaraguan government to protect the human rights of its citizens, including the rights of freedom of expression and worship.

On March 3, 2020, there was a memorial mass and homage to Ernesto Cardenal, who died on March 1, 2020 and was lying in state in the cathedral. Supporters of Daniel Ortega’s government arrived in buses early in the day to occupy the cathedral, intending to disrupt the funeral ceremony.  They disrupted the homily by Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, with slogans such as: “We want peace” “They couldn’t and they will not succeed”, and “Long live Daniel Ortega”.  They accused Ernesto Cardenal of being a traitor, “according to information from Gioconda Belli.”

At the end of the ceremony, these Ortega supporters not only blocked the exit of the casket, they attacked at least four journalists as well as the writer and president of the Nicaraguan PEN center, Gioconda Belli. She was pursued and attacked with insults referring to her critical statements against the government.

The journalists who were wounded while they were covering the ceremony are: Leonor Alvarez, from La
Prensa,
a daily paper; Arnaldo Arita, a CNN reporter, whose video camera and equipment were stolen from him;  David Quintana, a contributor to Boletín Ecológico; and Hans Lawrence, a reporter for Nicaragua
Investiga
. They were taken to a hospital.

The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights condemned the violence by government supporters during the mass celebrating Ernesto Cardenal’s death as an “not only an attack on the  memory of Ernesto
Cardenal but also an affront to the freedoms of assembly, religion and expression in Nicaragua”.

“The deterioration of the freedom of expression in a country can be measured by aggressions against journalists and efforts to block media reporting, along with criminalizing political opinions, as were
all demonstrated during the funeral of the intellectual and poet Ernesto Cardenal, an important voice in Spanish language literature and a critic of the Ortega administration,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Several days before, on February 25, 2020, during a demonstration to free political prisoners, police authorities pursued, attacked and threatened to kill reporters such as Noel Miranda, a reporter from Artículo 66, and Yeltsin Espinosa, collaborator in Nicaragua Actual. According to media sources, at least 20 houses and offices of government critics, journalists and civil organizations, were closed by police.

PEN International urgently calls on the authorities in Nicaragua to cease the harassment of journalists, writers, bloggers and independent media, and to respect the right to freedom of expression and
information, as guaranteed by Article 30 of the Constitution of Nicaragua and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by the State of Nicaragua.

San Miguel PEN has provided financial support to journalists in Nicaragua who have had their cell phones, laptops, and cameras stolen by police.