Government harassment against independent journalists grows in Nicaragua

In recent days, at least seven independent journalists in Nicaragua reported suffering death threats, persecution and harassment from paramilitaries, invasions of their property and arbitrary arrests and detentions.

Editorial columnist for newspaper La Prensa, Luis Sánchez Sancho (76), has been arbitrarily detained for more than three days in a cell for common criminals in the wake of a traffic accident, magazine Confidencial reported. Sánchez crashed on Nov. 24 with a motorcyclist who ran a red light, causing minor injuries, the publication added.

The prosecution accused Sanchez of having caused reckless injuries against the motorcyclist, according to La Prensa. According to the media outlet, the judge handling the case did not allow Sánchez's wife to sign an extrajudicial agreement that she had reached with the family of the victim to resolve the case and ordered preventive detention for the journalist.

The president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh, for its initials in Spanish), Vilma Núñez, said that this decision is a "legal aberration" because the judge has the obligation to respect the agreements between the parties, La Prensa reported.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has spoken out strongly against the increase in attacks against independent journalists in Nicaragua, and demanded the immediate release of Sánchez Sancho.

In another recent case, journalist Carlos Salinas Maldonado of Confidencial magazine, a contributor to the Spanish newspaper El País and host of the program "Esta Noche," reported that on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28, he was followed by paramilitaries on motorcycles, La Prensa reported. The paramilitaries not only followed him from his home to his workplace, Salinas said, but also made threatening signals during the trip.

The journalist is also the victim of smear campaigns on social networks that accuse him of being violent towards other people.

Also this week, the owner and director of Radio Mi Voz in the city of León, Álvaro Montalván, denounced through Facebook that several police patrols, without any explanation, invaded the land of their property where the transmission antennas of the radio station are installed.

On the other hand, journalist Miguel Mora, owner of the media outlet 100% Noticias, said in an interview with Canal 10 that when he arrived at his house on Nov. 24, he was detained, along with his wife Verónica Chávez and his driver, by an armed “group of paramilitary officers.” According to the journalist, the paramilitaries ordered them to put their hands up and seized Chávez in a vulgar manner. During the intervention, Mora said, they were also threatened with death.

The person in charge of the operation recorded the journalists during the detention, according to what Channel 10 showed during the interview with Mora. The journalist warned that a fragment of the video of the detention is circulating on social networks, edited alongside the image of a policeman who was incinerated months ago. For Mora, the objective of this attack is to incriminate them in that crime and thus close 100% Noticias.

Also on Nov. 24, sports journalist Gustavo Jarquín, from Radio Corporación, said he was assaulted by police agents. Jarquín denounced via Twitter that he was beaten because he did not want to give them his phone.

In that hectic weekend, the journalist Jaime Arellano, political commentator of the program "Jaime Arellano en la Nación" on 100% Noticias, was threatened with death and with jail, 100% Noticias reported.

According to the IAPA, Arellano left the country on Nov. 25 due to the threats.

Roberto Rock, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, accused the Nicaraguan regime of becoming a judge and jury to repress and silence the critical press.

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Edison Lanza, said on his Twitter account that the harassment of the press and media by state agents and government sympathizers in Nicaragua "is something rarely seen with this intensity."

At the beginning of November, the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCH) indicated in a report that between April of this year – when the protests against re-elected President Daniel Ortega and his government began – and mid-October, there were 420 violations against freedom of expression in the country.