Report to the 76 IAPA General Assembly
October 21-23, 2020

Since Daniel Ortega regained power in January 2007 and began restoring the dictatorship, restrictions on press freedom and attacks on independent media and journalists have increased. The situation worsened when the regime crushed the self-called rebellion of April 2018.

A year and a half later, the situation of freedom of the press and the political situation in the country worsened. We are one year away from the presidential and legislative elections in November 2021, and there are no signs that they will be clean.

The martial law is still in place. No meetings of more than two people are allowed. The Police - now called the Orteguista Police - keeps watch and removes the national flags from everywhere - the flag has become the new symbol of civic rebellion. At events journalists are attacked and their equipment stolen.

In addition to the fact that legal prosecution has become the new method of repression, the government is pushing three laws that affect freedom of the press, and one of them seems to be designed to repress politicians and disqualify candidates.

The law for the "Regulation of Foreign Agents" aims to "control financial operations and activities carried out by national or foreign associations or organizations in order to put an end to foreign interference in Nicaragua's internal affairs." It is designed to prevent the financing of opposition parties for the November 2021 election. It also hurts the media that receive assistance from different foundations. The law requires registration as a "foreign agent" and declaration of any donations, which must be approved by the Interior Ministry.

Seventy deputies loyal to the Ortega government presented the Special Cybercrime Bill - known as the Gag Law. Its purpose is the "preservation, investigation, prosecution and punishment of crimes committed through technology and communication, to the detriment of natural or legal persons, as well as the comprehensive protection of systems that use such technologies, their contents and any of their components."

The law indicates that "those who, using information and communication technology, publish or disseminate false and/or distorted information that causes alarm, fear, or anxiety in the population, or to a group or sector of the population or its family," may be punished by two to four years in prison.

The initiative empowers the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Mail (TELCOR) to order any company, association, media or entity to "freeze" the database of their computer systems for up to three months. This data will be accessible to the staff of the regulatory body, the police and the Prosecutor's Office, who will be able to intervene and seize the equipment in case of cyber-crimes.

Ortega took advantage of a case involving the murder of two girls to propose "life imprisonment for hate crimes." Since December, Ortega has pardoned 22,000 common prisoners at the request of Pope Francisco, however Cardinal Brenes of Managua clarified that the Pope's request had been for political prisoners. Many of those who were granted pardon have once again been jailed, and it is estimated that there are 70 or more political prisoners falsely accused of common crimes.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua announced that it shares the concerns of the Nicaraguan people over the threats to the liberty and the physical integrity of the citizens generated by the questionable bills proposed by the regime.

The seizure of assets due to fiscal investigations of previous years is the new method used to censor the media and private enterprise - as was the case with Channel 12. Sandinista Judge Silvia Chica Larios dismissed all the evidence presented by the media's lawyers and ordered that the seizure be upheld for some US$ 600,000.00 requested by the General Directorate of Taxes (DGI). The entity seized four properties of Channel 12 with a value of US$ 1,200,000. The claim involves an alleged tax debt from 2011 and 2012 in the amount of US$ 262,000.00, which an Administrative Court reduced to US$ 24,000.

Later, on October 6, Channel 12 was hit with yet another lien for US$ 200,000 for a 2014-2015 VAT debt. The media alleged that no costs or deductible expenses were recognized and challenged the judge who dismissed the evidence.

TV 100% Noticias also got another million-dollar claim. The channel remains seized and closed by the government, and its owner is not calling for its reopening.

The Confidential channel is seized and closed. It only broadcasts on social networks because it has been banned from broadcasting on open television or cable channels.

On September 22, Kalúa Yakari Salazar - journalist and news director for La Costeñísima radio station - was convicted of the alleged crime of slander against three former workers of the El Rama mayor's office - on the southern Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. "We only open the microphone so people can voice their public denunciations, and that's what we're about," Salazar said. The penalties are fines from 150 to 300 days and are calculated according to the salary of the convicted person - and can be paid in installments. So far there is no sentence.

On June 9, in another effort to intimidate journalists and media outlets, police traffic officers stopped Anibal Toruño - director of Radio Dario - at a checkpoint and seized his truck - claiming it did not have a fire extinguisher or warning triangles. On July 25, the Leon Police kept Radio Dario under siege for nine hours. No one was allowed to enter or leave the radio station. Days later, a police patrol took up position in front of the radio station along with an anti-riot unit.

On June 24, Luis Valle - police commissioner of Bluefields, South Caribbean Coast - attacked and prevented journalist Suyén Sánchez, from Radio Única, from covering an event.

On July 12, several criminals sabotaged the antenna of Radio Corporación, located in Tipitapa, in the vicinity of Managua. The thieves took the copper material from the base of the antenna.

In other slander trials, journalist Elsa Espinoza was sued by a neighbor who accused her of being a "pro-coup journalist and tranquera" – a pejorative term for people who set up roadblocks as a form of political protest – and journalist David Quintana, of Boletín Ecológico, is also being sued.

On October 4, Radio Estéreo Romance, from Carazo, announced the closure of its news programs due to the lack of advertisements. Fifteen journalists and other news workers were left unemployed. The director, Letzira Sevilla - who was editor of El Nuevo Diario until its closure - declared that economic choking is another way of limiting freedom of the press.

On October 7, the European Parliament (EP) condemned the laws on cyber-crimes and registration of foreign agents that are being pushed by the government. In its resolution, the EP called for sanctions to be imposed on the President and Vice President, and for the protection of independent media. It threatened to break the Free Trade Agreement by exercising the clause on respect for democracy.

On October 11, during a meeting of the National Coalition in León, the opposition was attacked with stones by Ortega supporters. The journalist Verónica Chávez - wife of Miguel Mora, from 100% Noticias - was seriously injured in the head and had to be taken to an intensive care unit. The police fined and seized the driver licenses of the owners of the vehicles used in the protest.

Between June and October, the newspaper La Prensa, the only one still circulating, has suffered two denial of service (DoS) attacks that left the portal out of service for about two minutes and there were two attempts to steal content.