Press Release

IACHR and Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression express deep concern over decision to declare protests illegal in Nicaragua

October 9, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression express their extreme concern about the position of the Nicaraguan National Police, which declares protests illegal and holds its conveners criminally responsible.

According to the information provided by the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the National Police, in a press release dated 28 September (Note 115-2018), after describing violent acts that occurred on September 2, 15 and 23 in the context of public protests, declare them violent and illegal and hold those who call them and organize them responsible for "any disturbance of public order, offensive and criminal actions, and aggressions," referring to the fact that such responsibility will be prosecuted legally.

The IACHR notes with concern that the authority in charge of safeguarding public order invokes specific events that occurred in the context of public demonstrations of protest as a basis for cataloguing future demonstrations as violent. Likewise, that the State continue to fail to comply with recommendation 4 of the IACHR Report on Nicaragua, which recommends to guarantee the life, integrity and security of all persons who are demonstrating and exercising their rights and civil liberties and suffering the consequences of the repressive environment, especially students, children and adolescents.

Based on the above, the IACHR observes that the declaration that anti-government protests are illegal because of violent acts and the a priori attribution of responsibility to conveners and organizers - in addition to being a clear violation of the principle of innocence - implies an arbitrary limitation of the right to social protest and therefore violates international human rights standards.

In this regard, the Commission recalls that "in a democracy, States must act on the basis of the lawfulness of public protests and demonstrations and under the assumption that they do not constitute a threat to public order.” In this normative context, restrictions on the right to participate in public meetings and demonstrations should be considered exceptional and subject to strict compliance with certain requirements, in accordance with Articles 13, 16 and 23 of the American Convention.

This presumption of legitimacy of public protests must be clearly and explicitly established in the legal systems of States and applied to all without discrimination. If the legal provisions are not clear, they should be clarified or, where appropriate, interpreted in favor of those exercising the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

"The general limitations on the exercise of people's right to social protest manifested in the National Police note are in themselves unnecessary, disproportionate and violate inter-American human rights standards," said the IACHR Rapporteur for Nicaragua, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola.

In the same context of the State's rejection of demonstrations of dissent, the expulsion from the country of the Austrian-American documentary filmmaker and journalist, Carl David Goette-Luciak, without any known charge and apparently because of information to which MESENI had access based on statements by Goette himself, due to publications denouncing the government, draws the attention of the IACHR and the Special Rapporteurship with concern.

The Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, recalls that "even in administrative or migratory contexts, States must ensure that journalists can carry out their work of seeking, receiving and disseminating information or opinions, any restriction must be subject to the principles of the right to freedom of expression, which must be guaranteed regardless of the nationality of the persons exercising it.

In this context, the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Paulo Abrão, warns that "it is of fundamental importance that constitutional guarantees and inter-American standards respect and guarantee the full enjoyment of the right to protest, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and political participation of the population.

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 the respect for and defense of 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. 222/18