Political conflict, the authoritarianism of the government and the continual attacks upon freedom of the press and of expression remained in much evidence since eruption of the social crisis on April 18. What was the start of a protest for a reform of social security led to one of the region’s worst political crises following the brutal repression ordered by President Daniel Ortega through police and public forces.
The protests and repression continue daily in all regions of the country.
The report by the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) of September 23 lists 512 deaths, 4,062 injured, 103 seriously injured with permanent harm, 1,428 kidnapped or made to disappear by non-authorized armed groups (paramilitaries), of whom there have reappeared 123 people who reported having been tortured. All these human rights violations have been documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and by the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
This crisis has its origin in the progressive erosion of democratic institutions since President Daniel Ortega took office in January 2007. All the powers and government institutions are controlled by the Executive Branch.
The national dialogue convened at the beginning of the crisis with the mediation of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, had no positive results. The initial repression was followed by a “hunting down” of the demonstrators who are being accused of terrorism and organized crime in summary and secret trials, through judges at the service of the political regime.
In those trials the presence of independent media has not been allowed. President Ortega accused the privately-owned company of “economic terrorism” for demanding dialogue. The main obstacles to coverage by the independent media have been imposed by Judges Henry Morales Olivares of Managua, Karen Chavarría of the same electoral district and Ernesto Rodríguez Mejía, who was in charge of the trial for the murder of journalist Ángel Gahona López, which occurred on April 22.
Both the OAS Permanent Council and the United Nations Security Council have condemned the government and have asked it to go back to dialogue as the only means of resolving the crisis.
The economy which would grow in 2018 by 4.5% is projected to decrease by 1 to 4% negatively. Some 250,000 jobs have been lost, tourism is almost at zero and both national and international investments have paralyzed, as has construction. Many businesses have shut down or are semi-paralyzed.
Press freedom is facing a clear harassment, according to what could be proved by a joint mission of the IAPA and Reporters Without Borders that visited the country August 13-15.
The mission’s report pointed out that the practices of aggression against independent journalists, especially in cases in the interior of the country, have been manifested in threats, persecution, intimidation and defamation campaigns.
Among those cases is the April 22 setting fire to the installations of Radio Darío radio station in León city, with all the staff inside, and the murder of journalist Gahoa López in Bluefelds. For this murder there were charged and convicted two young men who were found near the incident, but the Gahona López family and the accused denied their having carried out the murder. The trial in which they were convicted was held without the presence of journalists, contrary to the law that requires trials to be held in public.
Moreover, several Bluefields journalists, among them Ileana Lacayo, Sergio León and Migueliuth Sandoval, Gahona López’s widow, were described on social media as the masterminds of the journalist’s murder, opening up one of the forms of defamation with which the regime acts.
As a result of its visit to Managua the IAPA distributed a proclamation of support to Nicaragua published in numerous media of the region. Also, jointly with the organizations IFEX-ALC and AMARC it sent a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for it to be considered in the Universal Periodic Examination (UPE) on human rights.
Other relevant events:
TELCOR, the radio and television spectrum regulating agency, took off the air television channels 12, 23, 51 (Catholic Church channel) and 15 (100% Noticias), Telenorte in Estelí city and other television media.
On May 30 there was a violent attack on the installations of television station 100% Noticias.
The installations of official media La Nueva Radio Ya and Radio Nicaragua were set on fire.
Groups of pseudo police together with so-called “Sandinista mobs” not only repress but also rob.
In the first standing-up against the reforms of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute in April AFP photographer Alfredo Zúñiga suffered several injuries to the head and his camera was stolen.
On April 20 pro-Ortega mobs entered Managua Cathedral to attack the young people who were sheltering there. Photographer Uriel Molina of La Prensa was covering the events when he was beaten and assaulted by the mobs. They stole his work equipment, worth more than $4,000.
Shortly after the murder of Gahona López American journalist Tim Rogers, of the U.S. online television channel Fusion, decided to leave Nicaragua amid threats from people supporting the government who accused him of belonging to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
On June 18 journalist Eduardo Montenegro, owner of a radio station and two television channels in Matagalpa, in northern Nicaragua, submitted a denunciation to the IAPA. He said that threats against him and members of his family intensified in May. “We received numerous phone calls containing threats to kill us and set light to the Notimat television and radio stations’ installations if we continued covering protests,” Montenegro declared.
On June 19 while they were covering violent action by police and mobs at a dam in Ticuantepe, reporters of 100% Noticias and Canal 12 television were pointed at with AK rifles, threatened with death and stripped of their equipment and personal belongings. That same morning the La Prensa team escaped from shots made by the same people, taking refuge in a private home.
On June 24 Mynor García, La Prensa correspondent in Jinotepe, Carazo province, south of the capital, was besieged in his home by supporters of President Ortega who threw stones at him and threatened him with machetes, until some neighbors came to his protection.
Journalists William Aragón, Sara Ruiz and Roberto Mora, La Prensa correspondents in Madriz, Jinotega and Estelí, respectively, have been the victims of death threats, persecution, defamation on social media and robbery by groups supporting the government.
On June 28 Tania Narváez, El Nuevo Diario correspondent n Carazo, had to leave her home with her two children and her husband because her neighbors alerted her that a person had come to take photos of her home. Since then she has been harassed by insulting phone calls and text messages and threats to kill her and violate her.
She also submitted a denunciation for harassment and threats. Since April through false profiles on Facebook she had been accused to being a supporter of a coup d’état, a right-winger and a revolutionary.
On July 4 journalist William Aragón, La Prensa correspondent in Madriz province, said that the provincial Public Prosecutor’s Office was preparing a lawsuit against him.
The threats to and persecution of human rights defenders and journalist have become a “witch hunt” by the government. Journalists Adelayda Sánchez of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh), Gabriela Castro and Ileana Lacayo abandoned their homes due to threats they had received.
Several cyber attacks were launched against Confidencial and La Prensa websites.
The journalists of Canal 10 television and its press chief, Mauricio Madrigal, threatened to resign en masse if they were not allowed to report on the crisis. The government sought to control the channel’s news policy through a messenger, but this was rejected by the channel’s workers and manager, Carlos Pastora, who had to take refuge in the Honduras embassy. This channel, owned by Ángel González, and his news outlet Acción 10, which prior to the civic protests of April 18 had specialized only in yellow journalism, had suspended its broadcasts during the first 48 hours of the conflict.
On July 9 journalist Uriel Velásquez and photographer Oscar Sánchez of El Nuevo Diario were beaten by mobs and pro-governrment hooded armed civilians as they were covering a visit by bishops of the Episcopal Conference to the San Sebastián Basilica in Diriamba, Carazo. Also beaten up were bishops and priests who had arrived to rescue people taking refuge in the temple since the night before.
On July 25 hooded and armed people projected on the wall of the El Nuevo Diario building, from parked trucks, messages that said, “Justice for the victims of coup d’état terrorism.” Some hours later on social media of government channels there were published photos of the event with the headline “El Nuevo Diario is an accomplice of the coup d’état supporters and terrorists.”
Radio Corporación and Radio El Pensamiento of Allan Teffel received threats to raid the places where their antennas are located.
In addition to the material damages suffered by Radio Darío that are calculated to amount to $450,000, media and journalists have suffered robbery of their equipment amounting to $146,000. Among the damages were the theft of three 100% Noticias cameras, two from La Prensa, two from Canal 12, two cameras and a computer from Reuters news agency, a camera from Confidential, one from Canal 23, one from TV Mered, one from Canal 10, the theft of a professional camera lens of photographer Oscar Sánchez of El Nuevo Diario, the theft of a camera, tape recorder and $2,000 from German journalist Sandra Weiss, the theft of a backpack and equipment from a French journalist and of a camera belonging to a news agency photographer.
Both El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa have been victims of retention of materials, such as newsprint, ink and other supplies, by the Customs General Office (DGA), despite their having paid the taxes on them.
On August 12 journalist Eliud Garmendia Flores of El Nuevo Diario was arrested and questioned by hooded police officers in the area of the Polytechnic University (Upoli). He complained that since May he had been accused by people supporting the government on social media and by motorcycle-riding mobs that on two occasions besieged his home after publishing on social media a video on the anti-government protests.
On August 29 journalist Keysi García Pérez and news photographer Orlando Valenzuela of El Nuevo Diario were harassed at the entrance to the National Police Legal Assistance Office. A group of Sandinista sympathizers shouted at them “terrorists,” “liars,” “manipulators” and accused them of “receiving money” from the United States to publish “lies.”
In September the Customs General Office (DGA) blocked the delivery of primary products to El Nuevo Diario, which also affected the newspapers Metro and QHubo that were part of the ND Medios media group. The company had paid the taxes on September 6 and 9, but on October 19 the DGA still had withheld the shipment of black ink and thermal plates. In July the DGA withheld without justification a shipment of newsprint and ink, which obliged the paper to reduce the number of pages in full color. A Customs official said that there had been an order “from above” to not deliver the imports to certain media.
On September 16, at the conclusion of the people’s march “Rescuing the fatherland” at the Cristo Rey roundabout in Managua there arrived government mobs aboard trucks and accompanied by police. El Nuevo Diario journalists Uriel Velásquez and Nayira Valenzuela were stoned by hooded assailants. They fled and were chased by members of the mob.
On October 2 Austrian-American journalist and documentarian David Goette-Luciak was arrested and expelled from the country in shorts and barefooted without due process.