The political, social and economic situation has deteriorated and freedom of the press as well as the situation of many journalists is critical.
Journalists Miguel Mora, director of the television channel 100% Noticias and his press chief, Lucía Pineda, are still imprisoned in deplorable conditions. The channel was – and continues to be, closed and guarded by the police. The two journalists were accused of "provocation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism." Mora received the SIP Press Freedom Award in representation of Nicaragua's independent journalism.
The arrests took place after several weeks in which the police stationed patrols in front of the channel's facilities and stopped and questioned anyone who visited it. The trial for Mora and Pineda is scheduled for April 18. Arrest warrants were also issued for journalists Luis Galeano and Jaime Arellano – political commentator and director of the morning program Jaime Arellano in the Nation. Both had programs on the channel 100% Noticias, and both went to exile in Costa Rica.
The same fate befell the media outlets Confidencial, Esta Semana y Esta Noche, directed by Carlos Fernando Chamorro - son of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro murdered in 1978. The offices of Chamorro Barrios were occupied, all the equipment confiscated, and its programs on Channel 12 – the only one not controlled or neutralized by the government, were banned. Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, along with his wife and several journalists, went to the police station to deliver a letter asking for explanations, but were received by an anti-riot squad that pushed them onto the street with their shields – forcing them to withdraw.
Channel 12 also stopped broadcasting the morning talk show Danilo Lacayo Live, and its host, Danilo Lacayo – who was Press Chief of the government of Violeta B. de Chamorro – went into exile in Costa Rica. Carlos Fernando and his team of journalists were also forced to flee to the neighboring country of Costa Rica from where they continue to report on YouTube.
The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation compiled a list of 62 independent journalists who have been forced to leave the country (list attached), as well as a list of 712 attacks on the free exercise of journalism since the beginning of the repression on April 18, 2018. Since September of last year, the General Directorate of Customs has retained all materials necessary for printing of the newspapers La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario: paper, ink, plates, solutions and spare parts for the presses. La Prensa has 9 orders retained with a value of more than $180,000.00 US dollars. The Customs Office has not responded, and has not even answered two appeals that were filed in a special court to resolve customs issues - the two appeals were favorable to La Prensa.
The newspapers circulating in the country have opted for a reduction in paper consumption. La Prensa reduced its pages to 12 and El Nuevo Diario stopped publishing on Saturdays and Sundays. The popular newspapers, Hoy de La Prensa also cut pages, and Q'Hubo of El Nuevo Diario stopped circulating. We have now reached a 28-week customs embargo on the country's daily newspapers.
In January several foreign delegations visited the country, two senior officials of the U.S. State Department met with President Daniel Ortega and Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo. The talks were private and no information was given.
Also in January, a delegation from the European Union Parliament visited the country. The group spoke with the government and various social sectors as well as the opposition, and it was allowed to visit political prisoners, including Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda. The delegation said that the conditions in prison were not adequate. The head of the mission, Ramón Jáuregui, said that Mora had been isolated in a cell for 35 days without seeing the sunlight – he asked them for light and a Bible. Mora's wife said she had brought him a Bible, but later found out it was not delivered.
MEPs said that the government's claim that there had been an attempted coup d'état – on which all the trials have been based, was neither real nor credible. According to the group, what actually happened was a massive protest that was brutally repressed. In their perception there are two Nicaraguas, and to resolve the situation the people should be consulted in free and fair elections - which should be agreed upon in an inclusive dialogue. In order to do so, those who have not been accused should be released and those who were on trial should instead be given house arrest. They also said that another precondition for a popular consultation was the restoration of civil liberties, freedom of the press and freedom of movement. They warned that if this was not accomplished within a few months, Nicaragua would be excluded from Central America's free trade agreement with the European Union.
On February 21, in celebration of the 85th anniversary of General Augusto C. Sandino's assassination, President Ortega called for a negotiation (not Dialogue) with the Civic Alliance that unites opposition groups. It began on February 27. Ortega ordered the release of 100 political prisoners in order to put them under house arrest. There are between 500 and 700 political prisoners, of which the most prominent are the peasants who led the anti-channel movement and participated in last year's failed national dialogue. One of them, Medardo Mairena, was sentenced to 216 years in prison for the death of several police officers in his region, although Mairena was in Managua on the day of the murders. Another convicted peasant is Pedro Mena. One of the most striking convictions was that of 15 years in prison imposed on an anti-riot police officer who refused to shoot at the demonstrators. The Constitution of Nicaragua specifies that the maximum penalty is 30 years in prison. Former Nicaraguan Supreme Court Justice Rafael Solis, the main political advisor and operator of the Ortegas in the Judicial Branch, went into exile in Costa Rica and in a public letter stated that the trials are political and the judges receive direct orders from the Presidency, therefore all these trials should be declared null and void. This was demonstrated the day 100 prisoners who had been tried by different judges in different courts were given the same house arrest precautionary measures at the same time on the same day.
The dialogue or political negotiation began without mediators - the government didn't want to accept the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference, and extended an invitation to Apostolic Nuncio Stanislaw Waldemar Sommertag, and personally to Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solórzano, Archbishop of Managua. On March 5 – after five sessions of talks in which the road map or procedural agreement was approved, the government delegation accepted as witnesses the Nuncio Waldemar Sommertag and his Secretary as advisor, Cardinal Brenes with two bishops as advisors, and Evangelical Pastor Ulises Rivera Brenes, as national witness with two advisors. The agenda of negotiations will be defined in the next meetings. Bishop Abelardo Mata, spokesman for the NLC, said that bishops will decide collectively whether to accept the invitation. The negotiation process will end on March 28.
Other important developments:
On May 30, La Prensa - due to the serious economic crisis affecting the entire country, cancelled the contracts of 99 women workers, paying them the social benefits established by law. Alina Lorío Lira – a Nueva Segovia correspondent, filed a lawsuit four months after receiving her payment (the law only allows these lawsuits one month after receiving payment) alleging discrimination for political reasons – claiming before the judicial authority that she had been fired for being a Sandinista (governing party). A labor judge from Estelí (capital of Nueva Segovia) issued a conviction against La Prensa, resolving to: I) Allow the statute of limitations on the action opposed by La Prensa... III) Allow action for the protection of fundamental rights...etc. and the payment by La Prensa of C$760,312.00 (Seven hundred and sixty thousand three hundred and twelve Córdobas), equivalent to US$32,000.00. La Prensa appealed, since the sentence was passed against an express law – by virtue of the fact that the same law specifies the time of one month to sue in this type of claim, furthermore Lorío Lira did not prove that her dismissal was for political reasons, and the sentence was contradictory because it allowed the statute of limitations, and even so ordered the payment of such amount. The appeal was rejected by the National Labor Court without justification.
March marked the sixth month of retention of raw materials pertaining to El Nuevo Diario – an illegal measure by the Directorate General of Customs, that has caused damage to the production and circulation of the printed version of the newspaper. The retained imports (paper, ink and thermal plates, among others) are equivalent to more than US$150,000.
On March 3, Oscar Sánchez – a photographer with El Nuevo Diario, received a threatening phone call from an anonymous person who told him he was attacking the police with his photographs: "Be careful, you're pushing it and we've got you under surveillance." Oscar had already received threats over the phone in 2018 after publishing a sequence of photos of a paramilitary shooting at citizens who marched in protest against the government.
On February 28, a team from El Nuevo Diario, headed by journalist Mauricio González, was intercepted and threatened by the police as they covered the arrest of a citizen who was running down a Managua street wearing a white shirt and blue shorts (the colors of the national flag) something the government considered a sign of protest.
On February 27, a newspaper team from El Nuevo Diario was stopped by the police as they left the grounds of Managua's cathedral. Journalist Lester Arcia was taken out of the vehicle with his hands up, while a police officer searched him and accused him of being a coup plotter.
On January 30, the police came twice to the home of journalist Gustavo Bermúdez – of Radio Corporación. Bermúdez, who was not in the house, was warned by neighbors and had to hide somewhere else.
On January 29, journalist Leo Cárcamo Herrera was arrested and handcuffed by the police in the city of León when he entered Radio Darío – the company where he' s worked for more than 20 years. He was released three hours later after being threatened. On December 3, all radio workers were intimidated and threatened by the police – who besieged the facilities. From then on, they stopped all news and programs critical of the government for fear of being imprisoned.
The crime against Angel Gahona – committed on April 21, 2018, remains unpunished.
Journalists Miguel Mora and Lucia Pineda remain imprisoned and isolated.
Several media outlets and journalists continue to be persecuted and fear for their physical integrity, including Carlos Fernando Chamorro and his Confidencial, Esta Semana, Esta Noche and NIU Magazine.
This is the list of journalists who have gone into exile: Álvaro Montalván, Anagilmara Vílchez, Aníbal Toruño, Ariana MacGwire, Ariel Sotelo, Arlen Centeno, Arnulfo Peralta, Azucena Castillo, Bismark Lebrón, Camilo De Castro, Carlos Mikel Espinoza, Carlos Salina, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, Dino Andino, Eduardo Montenegro, Enma Amador, Engel Ariel Arce, Edith Pineda, Fabrice Le Lous, Francisco Cedeño, Francisco Espinoza, Gema Serrano, Gemima Estrada, Héctor Rosales, Helio Sevilla, Ileana Lacayo, lván Olivares, Jackson Orozco, Jaime Arellano, Jennifer Ortiz, Jordan Somarriba, José Denis Cruz, Josue Garay, Jessica Solis, José Denis Cruz, Karla Verónica Caceres, Leonardo Coca Palacios, Leticia Gaytán, Luis Galeano, Luis Murillo, Lester Juárez, Marfa Rebeca González, Marisol Montenegro, Marlon Caldera, Migueliut Sandoval, Martha Irene Sánchez, Noel Gallegos, Noel Marenco, Ricardo Somarriba, Roberto Collado, Sarina Villavicencio, Solange Saballos, Uriel Velásquez, Vanesa Cortés, Víctor Toruno, Winston Potosme, Wilfredo Miranda, Wendy Quintero, Ximena Castilblanco, Yamiek Mojica and Yelsin Espinoza.