Press Release

IACHR Condemns Increasing Attacks on the Press and Ongoing Human Rights Violations in Nicaragua

February 6, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned the escalating attacks on the press, the censorship and closure of media outlets, and the arbitrary detention and prosecution of journalists in Nicaragua. The IACHR has also documented an ongoing pattern of illegal arbitrary arrests, as well as detention conditions that violate the rights of people deprived of their freedom and those of their families.

In the first few weeks of 2019, the IACHR’s MESENI received information regarding the arrest of Wilfredo Brenes Domínguez, Karla and Fernando Escobar Maldonado, and Ramón Javier Cerrato on January 2 in the Fox neighborhood, and of Keneth Martínez on January 3 in the Monimbó neighborhood. The police allegedly deployed around thirty riot police officers and police dogs to carry out these arrests. On January 11, Jorge García and Salvador Orozco were arrested in the town of El Jícaro in Nueva Segovia for writing antigovernment graffiti on public signs. On their arrest they were taken to the Jícaro police station and then to the Jocotal department police station. However, their families did not receive precise information on their whereabouts until four days later, nor were they brought before a judge, nor was the legal charge on which they were being held made known. Jorge García and Salvador Orozco were eventually released from police custody on January 19.

These events reveal the seriousness of an ongoing, uninterrupted pattern of arbitrary arrests in which pretrial detention is no longer used preventively but instead becomes the standard punishment for those who express their dissent with the government. The IACHR wishes to remind the state that an arrest is illegal or arbitrary when it falls outside the hypothetical situations established in the law or when it is used for purposes other than those established by law and does not comply the strict formalities set out in the law. The IACHR also wishes to point out that illegal, arbitrary arrests are in fact prison sentences that are being implemented without due process.

The IACHR is also deeply concerned about the growing reports of the ill-treatment and physical punishment of women and men being held in the prisons known as La Esperanza and La Modelo. Through MESENI, the IACHR learned that on the night of December 31, a group of antiriot officers armed with AK47s, tear gas, and dogs assaulted a group of inmates in La Modelo prison who had sung the national anthem. The IACHR also received information regarding the beating that Francisco Sequeira received on January 11 in the maximum-security facilities he was being held in at La Modelo prison. This act of aggression was allegedly perpetrated by several prison employees in retaliation for a video in which inmate Chester Membreño recorded a statement from inside the prison. Sequeira was allegedly sprayed with tear gas and was then left in his cell after the attack without receiving medical attention. Similar reports reached the IACHR regarding the January 16 attack on Kenia Gutiérrez, who is being held at La Esperanza prison. According to information in the public domain, Ms. Gutiérrez appeared at her first trial with visible signs of having received blows to her arms, which she was allegedly dealt by a prison officer in retaliation for having given another detainee water. The IACHR also learned that on January 23 and 24, prison officers raided galleries 16-1 and 16-2 in La Modelo prison and confiscated nonperishable food from those being held there. They also allegedly seized utensils and the personal hygiene supplies that are brought regularly by the families of inmates, the absence of which could affect their health and integrity.

Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, rapporteur for Nicaragua, stated that “these practices reveal that people are being deprived of their freedom as a way to criminalize, punish, and neutralize social protest, which distorts the exceptional role that the deprivation of freedom should play in any democratic society that respects human rights. I call once more on the state of Nicaragua to cease this repression and end these violations of the human rights of people who are deprived of their freedom and those of their families, and urge the state to re-establish the guarantees of due process.”

The IACHR received reports that some people who are deprived of their freedom are not receiving appropriate medical attention. In this regard, the IACHR expressed its particular concern over the case of María Mercedes Chavarría, a substantial part of whose body is paralyzed. No information has been provided about her state of health or the medical attention she requires. A report was also received regarding the pacemaker repair operation carried out on January 7 on Ruth Matute, who is also being held in La Esperanza prison and who had to undergo emergency surgery due to prison authorities neglecting to provide appropriate care for the serious medical condition she suffers from.

The IACHR has repeatedly stated that the lack of appropriate medical care for people deprived of their freedom constitutes a serious human rights violation. The IACHR wishes to remind Nicaraguan authorities of their absolute obligation to guarantee the physical integrity of the people in their custody and to provide appropriate sanitary conditions and medical care. The IACHR also notes that the failure to comply with this obligation constitutes a serious human rights violation, particularly in connection with people who are being held by state authorities.
The rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty, Commissioner Joel Hernández, stated that “detention conditions must reflect the state’s express duty to protect the integrity and health of detainees.” He added that “the state of Nicaragua must modify the practices being used within its penitentiary system to comply with the standards it has committed to comply with.”

With regard to the current status of people being deprived of their freedom in Nicaragua, the IACHR notes that a delegation from the European Parliament visited the country on January 23, 2019, and had access to people being held at La Esperanza and El Chipote prisons. While the visit confirmed concerns about detainees’ health and the conditions in which they are being held, the IACHR acknowledges the government’s willingness to facilitate the visit and allow contact with detainees.

In recent weeks, the drive to censor and shut down independent media outlets, arrest and imprison journalists, and force high-profile Nicaraguan journalists into exile has continued. The IACHR has already condemned the attacks on the press that have been taking place since the beginning of the current crisis, which have targeted La Prensa, Confidencial, 100% Noticias, Radio Darío, Radio Mi Voz, Canal 12 and the reporters at Canal 10 (Press Release R267/18). The IACHR also received information on the criminalization of Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora, the chief press officer and director of the television channel 100% Noticias, who were arrested on December 21 and later accused of “inciting and conspiring to commit acts of terrorism and inciting hate crimes,” along with three other press workers, Jaime Arellano, Jackson Orozco, and Luis Chavarría Galeano, who have allegedly left the country.

The National Police Force continues to monitor and oversee those working in the newsrooms of 100% Noticias and the online media outlet El Confidencial. The telecommunications regulator has removed channels with independent editorial lines from the list of available cable television channels. These channels include 100% Noticias. Likewise, Canal 12 no longer broadcasts the programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, both of which were produced by El Confidencial. Furthermore, customs authorities are holding up the newsprint imported by longstanding newspaper La Prensa, which ran a blank front page to protest this new form of censorship. The paper has also announced that its print edition will be closing down imminently due to this measure.

Over the past three months, over 60 Nicaraguan journalists have gone into exile following threats from various state-controlled groups. At the same time, the government has been favoring the duopoly that controls most television and radio outlets in Nicaragua. According to information in the public domain, one of these groups is run by family members of the president and vice president of the country.

“Democracy and the rule of law are incompatible with the criminalization of the independent press. The use of criminal law to punish the publication of information or opinions openly violates the standards of the Inter-American Human Rights System, as set out in one of its core criteria. The state of Nicaragua must immediately cease attacks on the independent press and demonstrate its commitment to the principles of democracy as soon as possible,” said Edison Lanza, the IACHR’s special rapporteur for freedom of expression.

The IACHR and the IACHR special rapporteurship on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (ESCER) have expressed their concern over guarantees of social rights in Nicaragua in relation to the acts of state repression that have taken place since the beginning of the social protests in April 2018. The IACHR’s rapporteurship on ESCER noted that these protests followed the announcement of a social security reform and expressed its concern over the passing of Presidential Decree No. 06-2019 on this issue, which was announced on February 1. The decree in question contains amendments to the General Regulations for the Social Security Law on the basis of Resolution 1/325, which was passed by the board of directors of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS) on January 28, 2019. Among other issues, the reform implies increases to workers’ and employers’ contributions to the social security system, fails to mention periodic adjustments to pensions, which are currently increased by 5% per year, and introduces modifications to how pensions are calculated, which may imply reductions of up to 30% for new pensions. The rapporteurship on ESCER noted that social and environmental rights are progressive by nature and consequently expressed its concern over the apparently regressive nature of these reforms and their potential negative impact on the human rights of the Nicaraguan population, in particular their labor rights, the right to social security, and the rights of older people.

The IACHR and the rapporteurship on ESCER have also received information suggesting these reforms are being issued without appropriate provision of information, consultation, and dialogue with the different sectors that they affect. A presidential decree is an inappropriate way to implement reforms that affect social rights and may represent setbacks to the progress that Nicaragua has already made on its ESCER-related obligations. The IACHR and the rapporteurship on ESCER noted that in order to comply with the obligations that derive from the inter-American system and other universal instruments of human rights, any measure that affects the progressive development of ESCER must be carefully considered and fully justified to ensure it makes full use of the maximum available resources. Furthermore, related decisions should be reached as part of transparent processes on which information is widely available, so as to ensure effective, broad-reaching social participation to enable authorities to assess the impact of potentially regressive measures and seriously consider all alternatives to them.

The rapporteurship on ESCER noted that any reform of the social security system must be based not only economic or financial perspectives, but also—and fundamentally—on a human rights perspective. “Any legislative reform that affects social rights must guarantee citizen participation in the reform process and evaluate how these rights will be affected before the reform is adopted,” stated Soledad García Muñoz, IACHR special rapporteur on ESCER.

The IACHR urges the state of Nicaragua to re-establish the conditions needed for the rule of law in the country. As IACHR executive secretary Paulo Abrão noted, “It is deeply concerning that in addition to the gradual closure of democratic spaces in the country, there are ongoing threats to people’s integrity and freedom. We are also calling once more on the government of Nicaragua to allow international human rights monitoring in the country.”

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. 026/19