The IACHR, RFOE, and OHCHR Condemn the Repeated Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Nicaragua

August 18, 2021

Washington, D.C./Panama City — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Office of the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RFOE), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for Central America and the Dominican Republic categorically condemned the repeated acts of persecution on the part of the Nicaraguan authorities against media outlets, journalists, and media workers in the run-up to the presidential elections scheduled for November 7.

Over the last two months, in response to growing repression in the country, the IACHR and OHCHR have documented how at least 12 journalists from print media, radio, television, and digital media and different regions of the country have been forced into exile out of fear of reprisals against them.

On May 20, the authorities began administrative and criminal investigations against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, one of the main organizations working to defend press freedom in Nicaragua, which had ceased operations in February 2021 due to the requirements imposed by the Foreign Agents Law, as did the Nicaraguan branch of writers' organization PEN International. This law was passed in 2020 and deems NGOs that obtain international cooperation funds to be "foreign agents," and prohibits them from working on issues relating to the country's "domestic and foreign policy," without specifically defining these issues. It also establishes excessive, arbitrary controls that hamper the legitimate work of Nicaraguan civil society. This legislation was challenged in a letter sent by United Nations and IACHR rapporteurs on the grounds that it presented serious, fundamental issues of compatibility with Nicaragua's obligations under international law.

The headquarters of the online magazine Confidencial and the TV program Esta Semana were also raided on May 20. Both are directed by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who was forced the following month to go back into the exile from which he had returned in late November 2019.

Furthermore, the former director of the foundation, Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, who is also a candidate in the presidential election; her driver, Pedro Vásquez Cortedano; and two former employees at the foundation, Walter Gómez Silva and Marcos Fletes Casco, were arrested between May 28 in June 15 as part of the criminal investigation against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for alleged money laundering related to the use of international cooperation funds under Law 977 against Money Laundering, the Financing of Terrorism, and the Financing of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. All were beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR.

Likewise, the Public Prosecutor's Office has summoned more than 25 journalists and media workers who worked with the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation or were involved in its activities to testify. In several of these interviews, the people who were summoned were allegedly threatened with criminal charges and the application of the Special Law on Cybercrime if they refused to "collaborate" or demanded that a defense lawyer be present, in addition to being subjected to acts of intimidation in the vicinity of the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Two journalists, Miguel Mora and Miguel Mendoza, were arrested on June 20 and 21, respectively. The former is also a presidential candidate and is the owner and former director of the television channel 100% Noticias. Sportswriter Miguel Mendoza was reportedly arrested because of the critical comments he published on social media. Both remain in prison and are being held in total incommunicado detention on the grounds of generic allegations based on Law 1055 on the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace, following a procedure that did not entail due process.

Finally, on August 13, the National Police Force and the Public Prosecutor's Office raided the offices of La Prensa newspaper, where they seized property. The following day, they arrested its general manager, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, as part of an investigation into alleged crimes of customs fraud and the laundering of money, property, and assets. There were also reports of workers being held incommunicado during the raid, and La Prensa's intranet server was temporarily shut down, which reportedly prevented its website from being published. On August 12, the newspaper had allegedly reported that the withholding of newsprint by the customs authority for over 20 days had forced it to stop publishing its print edition and to continue solely with the online edition.

This repeated behavior constitutes a serious attack and undue restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, in some cases constituting acts of censorship. This affects not only the rights of journalists and media workers but also the rights of all citizens to access pluralistic information.

As stated by the Human Rights Committee, "the free communication of information and ideas on public and political issues […] is indispensable to ensuring the full exercise of the right [to participate in government]. This implies the existence of a free press and other media outlets that can comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion."

The IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression considers this right to be "an indispensable requirement for the very existence of a democratic society" and states that "restrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression." It also warns that "direct or indirect pressures exerted upon journalists or other social communicators to stifle the dissemination of information are incompatible with freedom of expression."

Government harassment, censorship, stigmatization, and persecution of the press, arrests, and arbitrary legal proceedings against media outlets, journalists, and organizations that defend press freedom are incompatible with the protection of freedom of expression and generate a widespread climate of fear and self-censorship. They are particularly serious given the upcoming elections and are incompatible with democratic rule and Nicaragua's international human rights obligations.

The IACHR, the RFOE, and the OHCHR urged the government to cease all behavior that jeopardizes the rights of journalists and the media, release all people who have been arbitrarily detained immediately, and restore the full enjoyment of all civil and political rights, particularly guarantees for the media to continue reporting free from undue interference. They also invited the international community to join their efforts to contribute positively and effectively to guaranteeing human rights in Nicaragua.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the leading UN entity on human rights. The General Assembly entrusted both the High Commissioner and her office with a mandate to promote and protect all human rights for all people. At the request of States, UN Human Rights provides assistance in the form of technical capacity-building to provide support for the implementation of international human rights standards to ensure the effective enjoyment and protection of human rights. It assists governments, which bear the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights, to fulfill their international obligations, while providing support for individuals in claiming their rights. It also speaks out objectively on human rights violations.

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. 216/21

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