Restoring democracy in Nicaragua must be our priority

End of the year message from IAPA President Jorge Canahuati

Miami (December 23, 2021) - In a public appeal to the international community, the Inter American Press Association president, Jorge Canahuati, claims that 2022 must be the year in which democracy needs to be restored in Nicaragua.

In the usual year-end message, in which the IAPA makes an annual balance on the performance of press freedom in the American continent, Canahuati emphasizes Nicaragua as the country with the most significant regression in 2021.

Canahuati calls on the Nicaraguan regime to decree an amnesty to release prisoners of conscience, a measure he considers "the starting point to try to restore democracy."

Full text of the message from the president of the IAPA and the Opsa Group of Honduras:

End of the year message from IAPA President Jorge Canahuati

"During 2021, the most severe outrages against freedom of the press and expression in the Americas occurred in Nicaragua. In that country, several journalists and the prominent leaders of the civic opposition and directors of non-governmental organizations remain imprisoned and without procedural rights.

Only an amnesty for prisoners of conscience could be the starting point for restoring democracy in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, however, the regime of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo remains unmoved this Christmas.

Despite emphasizing the case of Nicaragua, we cannot forget that Cuba and Venezuela have the worst legacy of press freedom in the last decades, with a regrettable setback during 2021. In Cuba, independent journalists, artists, and intellectuals have suffered one of the most challenging periods of repression in the last 25 years. Arrests, accusations, and permanent harassment are the preferred tools of the dictatorship to curb freedom of expression, but it has not succeeded. In Venezuela, the regime's aggressions against freedom of expression intensified this year. One of the most notable cases was the seizure of the facilities of El Nacional by the Armed Forces. As a result, and to guarantee that its citizens are informed, many independent media only operate online.

Concerning Nicaragua, the most palpable example of the subjugation of press freedom is La Prensa. The newspaper has survived the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, the attacks of the Sandinista revolution, several earthquakes, the destruction of its offices by mobs, the army, and the police, economic boycotts, the imprisonment of directors and editors, and even the assassination of its director, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in 1978. The newspaper had to lay off more than 120 workers. Nevertheless, it publishes virtually thanks to courageous journalists who remain in the country and from exile. The general manager of La Prensa, Juan Lorenzo Hollman, regional vice chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, has been in prison for more than four and a half months, and his health has deteriorated.

It is impressive that, almost 44 years later, the Chamorro family continues to pay the price for confronting dictatorships. Siblings Cristiana and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Barrios remain detained, and their other brother, Carlos Fernando, went into exile in Costa Rica to evade the Ortega's repressive tsunami.

The case of La Prensa and the arrest of its directors is not the only one, as can be read in this link. Since June, Miguel Mora, director of the TV station 100% Noticias and presidential pre-candidate, has been imprisoned on "conspiracy to undermine national sovereignty" charges. Also detained are Miguel Mendoza, sports reporter, and Jaime Arellano, journalist and commentator.

Some 50 journalists have received a court summons. Due to constant threats, many left the country, such as the editor-in-chief Octavio Enriquez and seven other journalists of La Prensa and the photographer of Confidencial, Carlos Herrera.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) registered some 65 cases of journalists in a situation of extreme vulnerability and risk. In addition, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to some 49 workers of the media Confidencial, Divergentes, Radio Darío, and La Costeñísima.

Political prisoners suffer constant interrogations without lawyers, threats, isolation, poor food, and families cannot visit them. The Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca Más recently denounced in Costa Rica that there are currently 167 political prisoners in Nicaraguan jails and documented 115 testimonies of torture.

To carry out its repressive escalation, since last year, the Ortega-Murillo regime fabricated several laws to criminalize any hint of criticism and opposition. For example, the Foreign Agents Law, aimed at blocking organizations that monitor human rights and freedom of expression, was used to close down the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCh).

Since May, several foundations have remained arrested, and, on June 2, the house arrest of its president, Cristiana Chamorro Barrios, was ordered. At her arrest, she led the popularity polls among the presidential pre-candidates to face Ortega in November. In the end, all the pre-candidates with the most popular support ended up in jail.

Meanwhile, President Ortega maintains a hostile and stigmatizing discourse against political prisoners, calling them "traitors to the homeland." Ortega has publicly referred to these prisoners as "sons of bitches of U.S. imperialism." At the summit of ALBA countries two weeks ago in Cuba, he said he would not release them.

In June, as part of our work in favor of freedom of the press, the IAPA carried out a virtual mission to collect testimonies from journalists, media executives, opposition leaders, academics, businesspersons, representatives of civil society, and the Catholic Church. All of them, without exception, requested us to maintain international denunciation and support to Nicaraguan journalists.

During this time of reflection, we express our admiration and solidarity to political prisoners and journalists imprisoned. Furthermore, we'll continue demanding the government to respect and guarantee press freedom.

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.