Report to the 71th General Assembly
Charleston, South Carolina
October 2 – 6, 2015
Daniel Ortega's desire for power has no limit. He controls all the institutions, bodies and dependencies of the state and of the government, civilian and military. He has under his control, or determining influence, almost all social and labor union organizations. Those very few social news media that remain free and independent Ortega prevents from accessing public information, maintaining a strict news embargo.
In May Ortega made a serious attempt to increase much more his dominion over media with a legislative bill on the Promotion and Development of the National Wideband Telecommunications Network which contains rules that in practice would mean absolute government control over the flow of information on the Internet. This would be achieved through a state-owned company that would be the point of national interconnection which would channel all the information, in addition to the information of e-mails, content and names of users that the company manages.
The unanimous stance of the opposition parties, democratic political sectors, civil society and mainly COSEP, the private enterprise leadership which is the only one that the government maintains a kind of consensus, made Ortega backtrack in his intent, which is not the first one, as in 2013 he had made another one through Constitutional amendments under the pretext of national security, which was also abandoned by the government.
It is important to mention these failed attempts because it demonstrates that Ortega and his government will not cease in their objective of controlling information on the Internet.
The government maintains absolute limits on official information to the media that it does not control. The government does not comply with Law 621 (Law on Access to Public Information), the state institutions Web sites are out of date, or unavailable, or full of political propaganda.
Official advertising is exclusive for pro-government media, not even announcements to warn or instruct the population about epidemics or similar emergencies being published in independent media.
In June Edson Lanza, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) criticized the policy of direct and indirect control or the neutralization of all the news media through a duopoly in television, leaving just one independent open channel, just one important independent radio station and just one important print media outlet as a result of the governmental policy of controlling all information.
The forms of indirect censorship are many that the regime practices systematically, whether by putting officials who dare give an opinion on trial, or preventing journalists having access to information or to official public events, or through expulsion from the country of foreign journalists and human rights defenders.
These are the most relevant cases:
In early March Nicaraguan Army medic and First Lieutenant Yader Montiel Meza was criminally charged and convicted by the military courts, although with a minimum sentence, for having made critical comments following police repression of protestors over the Canal in El Tule (a town on the route of the canal) on December 24 last year. According to the military prosecutor witnesses from the local health center said that Montiel was understood to have declared, "We were like in the 1980s, in the presence of a 'Red Christmas,' as we were stained with the blood of our peasant brothers, who are defending their rights." The article of the Military Code that establishes the offense against military decorum – with which Lieutenant Montiel was charged and for which he was convicted – was not violated by him as this article does not mention criticism. In addition, what he criticized was not a military operation but a police one, he was not in uniform and was on leave when he expressed his views, moreover he did not do so in any news media.
The government prohibited entry into the country of French cartoonist Jules Berjeaut ("Jul") who publishes in Charlie Hebdo. He was invited to a forum on the theme "Words in Freedom" at the "Central America Counts" regional meeting of writers held May 18-23. The refusal to let "Jul" into the country is regarded as an inconsistency as the very President Ortega on January 8 expressed to the president of France the solidarity of the Nicaraguan government in the face of the barbaric act committed against Charlie Hebdo.
On that same date the government expelled from Nicaragua lawyers belonging to the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) Luis Carlos Buob and Marta González, who were mistreated, frisked and had their telephones stolen before being forced onto a plane to expel them from Nicaragua. The CEJIL lawyers had joined Nicaraguan organizations at a hearing before the IACHR in Washington, DC, in March this year to raise the issue of violations of their rights that can imply the inter-oceanic canal project by the Chinese concessionary company HKND.
The Judicial Branch dominated by the Executive Branch prohibits the entry of independent journalists into trials that for some reason it does not want to be publicized, while journalists from the official media can always be present. In one of these trials, of businessman Milton Arcia, that had a great repercussion on public opinion, the spokesman of the Judicial Branch, Roberto Larios, justified his action calling the Association of Journalists of Nicaragua (APN) "a sadly famous association of journalists of Nicaragua that funds the Chamorro family and the newspaper La Prensa." The APN for its part filed a libel suit and asked Larios for an apology, but he reiterated his position and said that what he had done was really a criticism of the Association so that it abandon "the policy of cohabitation" with what he called the "pro-government rightwing media." The suit was thrown out by the judge, who ordered the case to be filed away permanently.
Every Wednesday opposition groups stand up outside the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Council calling for free elections, electoral overview, provision of identity cards without discrimination, under terms of the Electoral Law. In the face of these demands the government has adopted different attitudes, some violent, others to cover up or sending counter-parades. On Wednesday, July 15 President Ortega sent his police officers to block, intimidate and attack people taking part in the protest, several members of Congress were badly beaten and detained despite their immunity. Journalists covering the event were not respected, Moisés Castillo taped a video when he was attacked and detained and the one trying to transmit it alive had his cel phone taken away and was detained. Both journalists are with Radio Corporación. Jorge Torres, a photographer with La Prensa, had his camera lens smashed.
La Prensa journalists and those of other independent media are not allowed to enter official public events. This policy has come to the ridiculous point of not allowing the presence of independent journalists at the inauguration of a traffic crossing, at the holding of patriotic celebrations in public squares, nor at the site of the battle of San Jacinto in tcelebration of the anniversary of the most important event in the war against the Filibusters.
In Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, the community radio station of the Oyanka Women's Movement was expropriated, its equipment taken by TELCOR without prior notice, it being alleged that it was operating on another frequency. The chairman of the Radio Broadcasting Chamber said that it did not deserve to be closed down but given time to resolve the matter, as it was authorized to use the frequency 90.3 and was operating on 90.5.
The local television channel 7, broadcasting in the town of Matiguás, Matagalpa province, was shut down by the cable company. The channel's owner alleges that this was because it had criticized the mayor, but the owners of the local cable channel say that it was not paying the corresponding quota, and that was why they shut it down. It was not possible to confirm an independent version.