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Reported harassment of Nicaraguan journalists highlights dangers of reporting during protests

By Mariana Muñ​oz and Teresa Mioli

A year after Nicaraguan journalists called on authorities for protection during anti-government protests, several were reportedly threatened during demonstrations in Managua last week.

Various news outlets have reported that journalists caught in the middle of demonstrations in the nation’s capital on July 8 were harassed and detained by police officers.

Protesters demanding fair elections for the country’s 2016 general elections in November were participating in a weekly demonstration near the Supreme Electoral Council. They condemned the Sandinista government led by president Daniel Ortega, shouting, “No more (Sandinistas), yes to democracy, no to dictatorship.”

Police attempted to block the protesters from reaching the electoral offices, but protesters tried to force their way past a police line, according to the Associated Press (AP).

In the midst of chaos, officers reportedly harassed and detained Moisés Julián Castillo and Larry Sevilla, according to La Prensa. The two journalists work for Radio Corporación, which is owned by Fabio Gadea, former presidential candidate of opposition party Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI).

At a press conference, Castillo said that officers clubbed him and dragged him about 50 meters to a police car.

Sevilla, who was transmitting for the station at the time of the event, identified himself as a journalist to the officers, yet he was violently detained, according to La Prensa.

Both of the journalists denounced the attacks to the Comisión Permanente de Derechos Humanos (CPDH).

Photographer Jorge Torres, who was working for La Prensa, and Esteban Félix, correspondent working for the AP, had their equipment damaged. Luis Mora Duarte, reporter for VosTv, was also harassed during the confrontation, according to La Prensa.

On July 10, the police gave their own version of the incidents through a statement in which they claimed that physical action was taken because the protesters became aggressive, according to El Nuevo Diario. The statement did not mention any actions toward journalists or the equipment of photographers.

Carlos Ponce, director for Latin America and Caribbean programs for Freedom House, said, "The beating and detaining of peaceful protestors in Managua and the harassment of journalists attempting to cover the incident are clear violations of the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly.”

The recent events in Nicaragua reflect a trend of journalists who are vulnerable to harassment, arrest, beatings, and in some cases, death, as a result of reporting during protests.

In July 2014, Nicaraguan journalists were demanding action from the national police regarding recent attacks on the press, some of which occurred during anti-government protests.

Journalists accused police of failing to intervene as government supporters “resort[ed] to indiscriminate violence against anti-government protesters, resulting in attacks on reporters who are there to cover the protests,” according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF for its acronym in French).

When caught in the middle of opposing sides, journalists can be the target or collateral damage of attacks from either side.

Media workers in other Latin American countries have faced similar danger when reporting during protests.

In February 2014, Brazilian cameraman Santiago Ilídio Andrade was ultimately killed in Rio de Janeiro after an explosive device hit him in the head while he was covering a demonstration against bus fare increases. Two reported activists were arrested in connection with the killing.

Peruvian journalist Rudy Huallpa Cayo lost vision in his left eye after a police officer shot him with a rubber bullet during a protest in Puno in April 2014.

And in November 2014, several journalists were attacked by police while covering protests about the 43 missing students from the teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, according to RSF.

Worldwide, “about 100 journalists died while covering street protests and other civil disturbances from 1992 through 2011,” the Committee to Protect Journalists reported. The organization has published a guide specifically addressing how journalists can protect themselves while reporting during protests and demonstrations.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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