IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Urge the State of Nicaragua to End Persecution of the Church and to Enable a Plurality of Voices

May 27, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression condemn the mandatory removal of the Canal Católico Roman Catholic channel from Nicaraguan cable TV networks, as well as the constant harassment of the Roman Catholic church in the country. The State must end repression and ensure a plurality of voices and content in Nicaraguan media.

According to publicly available reports, the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Mail Services (TELCOR, by its Spanish acronym), which regulates communications in the country, allegedly ordered that cable TV networks remove this channel from their schedules. Canal Católico, founded in 2011, belongs to the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference and was taken off the air while it was broadcasting religious activities.

This removal had been publicly announced by one of Nicaragua's main telecom networks on May 20. However, a further four larger cable TV networks and several local operators were allegedly also legally mandated to take Canal Católico off the air.

TELCOR's order came the day after the bishop of Matagalpa, apostolic manager of the Estelí diocese, denounced on social media an increased harassment and hounding by National Police officers. Cable operators were reportedly afraid to provide further details of what happened.

The allegations come in a context where members of the Roman Catholic church are being subjected to persecution, harassment, hounding, and stigmatizing remarks by the highest authorities of the State and by police officers. It is worth noting that, earlier this year, the National Assembly arbitrarily cancelled the legal status of organizations linked to the Roman Catholic church including the Catholic University of Dry Tropic Farming and Livestock and several schools in the Estelí diocese. In March, the State demanded that the apostolic nuncio—who acted as mediator in Nicaraguan talks in 2019—leave the country. Since 2018, other religious authorities have denounced surveillance and police encirclements that prevent the faithful from reaching religious buildings. Several foreign priests have allegedly had their visas revoked and others are said to have been threatened with expulsion.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression stress that Article 12.1 of the American Convention warrants "freedom to profess or disseminate one's religion or beliefs, either individually or together with others, in public or in private" and that Article 12.3 notes that "freedom to manifest one's religion and beliefs may be subject only to the limitations prescribed by law that are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights or freedoms of others." The order to remove Canal Católico from TV networks could therefore amount to an arbitrary restriction of the right to disseminate one's religion or beliefs and, in the current context, also to a form of retaliation against the church for its mediating role and for the support it afforded to victims of the ongoing human rights crisis in Nicaragua.

As noted in The Inter-American Legal Framework regarding the Right to Freedom of Expression, religious speech has special protection under the American Convention on Human Rights, since it expresses essential elements of personal identity or dignity. This is particularly important in a country where most people are Roman Catholics.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression call on the State to end constant attacks against the Roman Catholic church. They also urge the State to refrain from using its powers in the field of telecommunications to indirectly restrict or prevent the circulation of information, ideas, and opinions. This entails that the State has a duty to restore Canal Católico's broadcasting permit and to ensure a plurality of diverse voices. In line with the applicable inter-American standards, the Commission and its Special Rapporteurship call on TV networks to take all possible measures to ensure full respect for freedom of expression.

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of a democratic system.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 119/22

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