Freedom of Expression

Press release R218/22

In light of serious allegations regarding the closure of civic spaces in Nicaragua, UN and IACHR Special Rapporteurs urge authorities to comply with their international obligations to respect and guarantee fundamental freedoms

September 28, 2022

Geneva / Washington D.C. – In light of the closure and government co-optation of civic spaces and democratic participation in Nicaragua, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urge the State to restore and reimplement the full enjoyment of civil and political rights, in particular freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. They also call for the international community to raise their commitment to support the victims of the human rights crisis.

Restrictions on fundamental freedoms have reached a critical point in Nicaragua. The complaints received by the Special Rapporteurs over the course of this year show that there is no longer any space for critical voices, as the Government’s censorship strategy has been steadily deployed against any person that questions it and against all available areas of democratic participation. Since April 2018, more than 2000 organizations of civil society - linked to political parties, academic, and religious spaces – have been cancelled. Last July, UN experts expressed their concern over the arbitrary shutdown of hundreds of civil society organizations and denounced that it represents "a clear pattern of repression of civic space". Furthermore, attacks and unlawful interference with the freedom of the media is a serious trend that has increased in the last four years. Since then, at least 54 national media outlets have been closed, and the occupation and confiscation of the facilities of the media outlets 100% Noticias, Confidencial, and La Prensa continues. The censorship strategy has also extended to the international press, creating a siege that hinders and prevents the circulation of relevant information about what is happening in the country: in recent years, the Government has prevented the entry of journalists from foreign media on at least seven occasions, and recently took CNN en Español off the air, without making public the reasons for the decision. In their onslaught against all forms of independent expression, the authorities have also banned religious processions; prevented academics and researchers from entering the country; pushed to censor and veto writers; expelled musicians from the country; and violently arrested priests and other critical religious leaders.

The attacks, judicial persecution and activation of control and surveillance mechanisms against journalists, human rights defenders, civil society actors, academics, students, members of the Catholic Church, political parties and government opponents not only represent a clear violation of human rights and the principles of the rule of law but also have a humanitarian impact. Currently, according to information documented by the IACHR's Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the number of political prisoners stands at more than 200, many of whom are held in unhealthy conditions, without access to adequate medical care, subjected to solitary confinement regimes, and prevented from receiving visits from their families, among other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In view of the facts reported, the Rapporteurs express their strong rejection and recall the following:


First, the State of Nicaragua must immediately cease the judicial persecution of all dissenting voices, release those imprisoned for political reasons and ensure prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into allegations of human rights violations, resulting in those responsible being held to account and effective remedies being provided to the victims. The actions perpetrated by the authorities directly violate the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association and have generated a notable effect of self-censorship among Nicaraguan citizens, who in many cases decide to silence themselves in fear of being the target of retaliation and to protect their personal integrity and that of their families.

Second, the authorities must refrain from using the law arbitrarily and selectively and from applying abusive governmental practices to hinder or restrict citizen participation and freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The closure and widespread cancellation of civil society organizations and media outlets highlights the governmental co-optation of civic space and the intention to consolidate the official narrative as the only permitted discourse, which is deepened by official propaganda strategies and pressures to replicate it.

Third, the Rapporteurs urge the State of Nicaragua to guarantee the life and integrity of persons deprived of their liberty, with unrestricted respect for human dignity. They also call on the international community to improve their monitoring of the situation of political prisoners and to encourage the compliance with their fundamental rights and freedoms, and to take humanitarian support measures in accordance with the seriousness of the allegations received.

Fourth, the Rapporteurs call on States to offer protection and humanitarian assistance to the various actors of Nicaraguan civil society who are forced into exile in the wake of the social, political, and human rights crisis. Under international human rights law, refugee law, and international humanitarian law, States are called upon to open their borders and guarantee emergency entry into their territory to civil society actors seeking international protection or demonstrating urgent humanitarian needs, including recognition of refugee status.

Within the framework of their mandates and functions, the Rapporteurs emphasize their commitment to continue promoting and defending the re-establishment of rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression of Nicaraguan society. They also expressed their willingness to visit the country and offer technical advice. Finally, they reiterate the calls and recommendations made in the Joint Declaration on Protecting And Supporting Civil Society At-Risk (2021) and the Joint Declaration on Protecting the Right To Freedom of Peaceful Assembly in Times Of Emergencies (2022) and hope that the set of international instruments and multilateral human rights mechanisms can contribute to the restoration of the rule of law in Nicaragua.

*The experts: Clément Voule, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association; Pedro Vaca Villarreal, IACHR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.