NICARAGUA Report to the Midyear Meeting Caracas, Venezuela March 28 - 30, 2008 The government has attacked journalists and media outlets. On January 9, President Daniel Ortega published the regulations for the Freedom of Information Law, putting the law into effect. However, the Freedom of Information Office provided for in the law has not been established, and there is no budget for that purpose The Supreme Court still has not ruled on the challenge to the constitutionality of the law establishing the Colegio de Periodistas (the government-sanctioned journalists’ association) that was filed on April 4, 2002. Nor has the high court ruled on a challenge presented July 7, 2005 by representatives of several media outlets to the constitutionality of an amendment to the tax law that, under the pretext of regulation, would change the constitutional mandate that the media be exempted from taxes. The three opposition parties that promised to amend the tax law on this point have not yet done so and the bill is being discussed in committee. On December 19, 2007 Jorge Loásiga of La Prensa was attacked at the end of one of the meetings that President Ortega holds in poor neighborhoods of Managua to announce decrees, accept ambassadors’ credentials and sign various types of resolutions. A journalist of Channel 2, who was filming the events, was also attacked by members of Ortega’s security detail. Two of the president’s bodyguards handcuffed Loásiga and tried to arrest him, but were later ordered to let him go. On January 7, representatives of La Prensa met with officials of the National Police to discuss ways to avoid such incidents. Aminta Granera, the police chief, said rules will be drafted to maintain the necessary control and avoid incidents of that type There is great concern about the sentence of house arrest granted to William Hurtado, who was an official of the State Security police force during the first Sandinista administration He killed journalist Carlos Guadamuz on February 10, 2004. Guadamuz had been a close associate of President Ortega, but later, and until his death was a very harsh critic of Ortega and his other associates. Hurtado was supposedly granted house arrest for health reasons. On April 19, Hurtado was sentenced to 18 years in prison for killing Guadamuz and 3 ½ years for attempted murder of the journalist’s son, who was with him at the time There was also an attempt to free Eugenio Hernández González, who killed María Jose Bravo of the daily La Prensa, in November of 2004. A report in La Prensa blocked that for the moment. Judges of the Criminal Branch of the Supreme Court, who were politically motivated, were attempting to help Hernández González, a former Liberal Party mayor who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for manslaughter, instead of the charge of murder for which he had been convicted. The government follows a policy of secrecy and withholding of state advertising, favoring media outlets that belong to the governing party or that are committed to publishing government information in the form that it is released. In March 2007, the president signed an agreement with the Colegio de Periodistas that small radio newscasts would receive government advertising, but it has not yet been carried out. The Councils of Citizen Power (CPC) led by First Lady Rosario Murillo, are conducting a campaign against Jaime Chamorro, editor of La Prensa, and Eduardo Montealegre, an opposition leader who has been nominated by the most important coalition of political parties to run for mayor of Managua. The campaign accusing them of crimes concerns when Montealegre was manager and Chamorro a member of the board of directors of a bank that bought at a pubic auction bonds known as Negotiable Investment Certificates CENIS of the State to take over the deposits of one of the four banks that failed in a short period between 1999 and 2000. The state lost $500 million in the four bank failures, but the bank linked to Montealegre and Chamorro received only $50 million in bonds at a lower rate of interest than the other banks. In recent months a publicity spot sponsored by the CPCs has been running on television and radio, saying: “ The CENIS was the robbery of the century…Eduardo Montealegre of ALM and Jaime Chamorro of La Prensa stole $600 million from the people of Nicaragua…The thieves must pay.” There are photographs of the two defamed men and the public works that the money supposedly could have financed. At the same time, the CPCs are accusing Eduardo Enríquez, managing editor, and Jaime Chamorro, editor of La Prensa, of libel because the newspaper’s headline the night of the incident with Loásiga mistakenly said, “CPC With License to Give Beatings.” The plaintiffs are not mentioned personally, since none of their names is in the headline of the article, which should invalidate the charge. At the beginning of the case they did not have any legal accreditation, which is also a reason to dismiss the case. The judge is a Sandinista supporter who does not hide his partiality and bias. In addition, the plaintiffs are transported in a vehicle belonging to the office of the FSLN. La Prensa offered to make a correction, but the offer was not accepted.