Journalists and critical voices face charges, forced exile or closure of news outlets

31 August 2021

In the last week, Daniel Ortega’s government has increased pressure on dissenting voices by formally charging 10 opponents with crimes against the state. Eight of those charged have been in prison since the end of May and were presented at an initial hearing, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Three of the accused so far are journalists: siblings Cristiana, Pedro Joaquín and Carlos Fernando Chamorro Barrios. The first two are under arrest and the last one has been in exile for two months after receiving death threats and threats of imprisonment. The Chamorro family is historically linked to journalism in Nicaragua and in particular to the newspaper La Prensa, which was raided and has been occupied by the police since 13 August.

Formal accusation against Carlos Fernando Chamorro

On 24 August, the Nicaraguan Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro and his brother, the detained former deputy Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, for alleged money laundering. The charges were also extended against Cristiana Chamorro, their sister and a former presidential candidate who has been under house arrest since 2 June, in connection with an investigation into the Violeta Chamorro Foundation, which she headed until January.

“Ortega’s government is trying to silence me with an impeachment trial, but they will not make it”, warned Carlos Fernando Chamorro on his Twitter account.

Home confiscated from journalist forced into exile

Nicaraguan journalist Patricia Orozco, director of the digital portal Agenda Propia, denounced on 24 August that the government confiscated her home and forced her relatives to vacate it within 24 hours, after she decided to go into exile due to pressures and threats against her.

The veteran communicator, who directed the programme Onda Local for more than 20 years, denounced that the government argued that the house belonged to the state, when it was the state that gave it to her to live in with her family 36 years ago. “They disregard the law and instead use it to harass and persecute me for my ideas and my journalistic work,” Orozco said.

Radio Corporación closes two programmes critical of the government

On 26 August 2021, one day after the accusation against Carlos Fernando Chamorro was made public, the journalist announced that his programme Confidencial Radio would no longer be broadcast on Radio Corporación. He stated that the measure was “a consequence of the censorship imposed by the government and the threats to the media as a result of the criminalisation process” against him.

Four days later, on Sunday 29 August, the director of the programme Onda Local, Julio César López, announced in a statement that the programme would no longer be broadcast on Radio Corporación. López, who like Chamorro was forced into exile because of threats, rejected that his programme broadcast “messages of hate” and invited his audience to follow the broadcasts through his website

Alfonso Baldioceda, the Corporation’s press chief, said the radio station “is in an uncomfortable and complex situation” and asked the public for “understanding” for this “difficult decision”.

Opposition spokesman goes into exile due to threats

The young Nicaraguan journalist Josué Garay Alcántara, head of press for the opposition organisations Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco (UNAB) and Coalición Nacional (CN), reported on Sunday 29 August that he was pressured to leave the country after receiving a warning of his imminent arrest.

“I have left Nicaragua as a matter of urgency due to the warning of my capture and migratory restriction, as have other leaders of the National Unity and National Coalition. It has been hard, but at least now I can breathe. The struggle for a free Nicaragua is not over. It is getting stronger. #SOSNicaragua”, Garay wrote on his Twitter account and accompanied the phrase with a photograph of his shoes covered in mud, which suggests that he left Nicaragua through “blind spots” on the border.

In Nicaragua, every journalist has a plan to escape from the country, was told at a forum in Washington

The serious situation in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela due to the constant attacks on freedom of expression and press freedom was analysed during the forum “Latin American press under siege: Freedom for detained journalists”, which took place in Washington D.C. on the morning of 31 August.

The event was attended by journalists and human rights defenders, who portrayed, through cases and experiences, the difficulties of exercising independent journalism in their countries. Panelists included journalist Tiffany Roberts of Univision; journalist Anibal Toruño of Radio Dario of Nicaragua; Cuban expert on democracy and human rights Armando Chaguaceda; journalist Luz Mely Reyes of Efecto Cocuyo of Venezuela; Carlos Roa of the Association of Venezuelan Journalists Abroad; and IACHR Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Pedro Vaca. Dagmar Thiel, CEO of Fundamedios USA, moderated the panel.

“In the last 20 months at least 27 journalists have been murdered in Latin America”, was the phrase with which the moderator opened the event in which a video was projected with the faces of the murdered journalists and 11 journalists who are still being held.

Thiel recalled that the murders of journalists cannot go unpunished and must be investigated, as there must be consequences for these crimes.

In addition, journalists are arbitrarily arrested: five journalists and a media director have been arrested in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela: “We call on the solidarity of journalists in the continent to demand their freedom,” said Thiel.

Univisión journalist Tifanni Roberts recalled that since the massive protests of 2018, there has been a dramatic change in how Daniel Ortega’s mandate has treated dissident voices in Nicaragua, as he began to persecute them. In June 2021, for example, the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation was shut down under false accusations of money laundering and Cristiana Chamorro remains under arrest.

“Every journalist who remains in Nicaragua has a plan to escape the country because they know that sooner or later, they will be persecuted. They follow their families, they bring police outside their relatives’ houses, in order to censor and terrorize them,” Roberts said.

Anibal Toruño analysed the situation of the press in Nicaragua with the figure that since 2007, when Ortega took power, more than 23 media outlets in Nicaragua have closed their doors, either due to economic pressures or administrative orders.

“Since April 2018 more than half of reporters fled Nicaragua because they were facing some kind of threat,” said the Nicaraguan journalist and recalled that the latest victim was La Prensa, the oldest and most important newspaper in the country, which was taken over by the Police and its director is under arrest on fabricated criminal charges. “In Nicaragua it is the police who persecute journalists. Our homes, our children, our parents’ homes, our jobs,” said Toruño.

The event was organised by FUNDAMEDIOS, with the collaboration of the Press Freedom Committee, Voces del Sur, PADF, Race and Equality, SIP, Inter-American Dialogue, IFEX Latin America and the Caribbean, PEN America, PEN International and ICHR-RELE.

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