IAPA Midyear Meeting 2018

Medellín, Colombia

Press freedom and the political situation in Nicaragua have deteriorated in this latest period.

The Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany classified Nicaragua as one of five countries where democracy no longer exists, citing a lack of competitiveness in the latest presidential elections, in which President Daniel Ortega received 72.4% of the votes and won 70 of 90 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

An agreement was signed with the Organization of American States to improve Nicaragua's electoral system and institutions, but no progress has been made on this front in three years. Roberto Rivas, president of the Electoral Supreme Council (CSE) and a signatory to the OAS agreement, was sanctioned in December by the United States under the Global Magnitsky Act. In response, the Ortega administration left Rivas in office but transferred his duties to the CSE's vice president.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed its concern for press freedom in view of the following violations: the culture of secrecy that hinders the independent media's ability to access all kinds of government information, the lack of press conferences by President Ortega during his 10 years in office, and retaliation against government officials when they provide statements to independent media outlets. Also, the television media are controlled by a duopoly consisting of the Ortega family and Mexican businessman Ángel González, and broadcasting licenses and frequencies, as well as government advertising, are used in discriminatory fashion.

The president's wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, announced on March 13 that social media should be regulated to prevent violence and stop fake news. She insisted that laws should be amended to "protect children and youth from the world of fake news" because social media constitute "threats" to the family.

Although government officials talk about holding a broad discussion with various sectors on the regulation of social media, the only parties invited to weigh in were government bodies such as the Office of the Attorney General, the Supreme Court, the National Police, and the Citizens' Councils. Also participating in the debate in the Legislative Assembly were business groups and religious organizations with ties to the government. No legislative proposal has been submitted yet.

This announcement triggered the widespread criticism—among political parties, civil society organizations, and organizations of independent attorneys—of censorship of social media.

The Nicaraguan American Chamber of Commerce said that control of social media would be a blow to free trade. Meanwhile, Bishop Abelardo Mate, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the archbishop of Managua, rejected any such regulation.

In response to this widespread criticism, Vice President Murillo denied any attempt to impose censorship in social media: "At no time has anyone proposed restricting exchanges between people on the various mechanisms of information."

The police, the prosecutor's office, and the Office of the Attorney General were silent on whether cyberbullying and fake news should be regulated on social media.

For some time now, a government-supported website and Facebook account named Nicaleaks has been harassing and insulting opponents of the government. More recently, another Facebook account called Política 505 has emerged to insult representatives of the government and denounce corruption. This site may have been what spurred the government's reaction.

The abstention rate in the November 2017 municipal elections was very high due to the electoral system's lack of credibility. The FSLN won 135 of the 153 mayoral races, while the Constitutionalist Liberal Party won 11, Citizens for Freedom won six, and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance won one.

The FSLN lost the mayor's office in El Cúa, which owns Radio Bosawas, a radio station operated as a propaganda outlet for the mayor's office. The regulatory body TELCOR revoked the station's operating license on December 7 and confiscated its equipment, claiming that it had changed its equipment to 1,000 kilowatts when it was only licensed for 250 kilowatts. Article 70 of Law 200 on this matter states that a license can be revoked only after an outlet has been sanctioned three times. This decision was issued in September, but it was published after the FSLN lost the mayoral race.

All of the mayoral offices that were lost by the FSLN were looted, and the central government cut their funding by 50% with no explanation.

Martha Vásquez Larios, a journalist for La Prensa, has been targeted by the judicial branch for retaliation after she reported on increased spending at the Supreme Court based on the national government's budget for vehicle maintenance. The journalist was barred entry to judicial facilities.