International community called on to unite in defending freedom of expression, press freedom in Nicaragua

Recent incidents that have taken place in the country are as follows:

August 12 marked the circulation of the last print edition of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s oldest newspaper in Nicaragua. For years, La Prensa has been allowed a tax exemption for imported paper and other supplies necessary for the newspaper to operate. This exemption is guaranteed in the Nicaraguan Constitution. However, the Nicaraguan Customs Authority (DGA) has recently refused to grant these tax exemptions, even though the exemption request was processed on July 26, 2021. For the same reason, one day earlier, the newspaper Hoy, another of La Prensa‘s editorial products, was forced to stop circulating its print editions. The DGA’s refusal to grant this exemption violates Nicaragua’s Constitution[1] and the law that establishes that the request must be resolved within a maximum period of 10 days.

In addition, on August 13, one day after La Prensa stopped its print circulation, police officers entered the newspaper’s facilities, raiding its offices and printing press, and confiscated boxes of documents, computers and other property belonging to the media outlet without a legal warrant. Upon entering the facilities, the police cut off internet service and refused to allow anyone inside to use their cell phones. Staffers and anyone inside the facilities at the time were held for over 12 hours while the raid took place.

Hours later, the Nicaraguan National Police issued a statement saying that the State was initiating an investigation against the La Prensa editorial group and its directors “for crimes of customs fraud and money laundering and assets to the detriment of the State of Nicaragua and Nicaraguan society.”

On the morning of August 14, police officers took La Prensa’s general manager, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, to the offices of the Judicial Assistance Directorate (Auxilio Judicial), allegedly to sign documents. Subsequently, on August 16, the Public Ministry announced, via a press release, that Holmann had been arrested and would be held in prison for 90 days in connection with the investigation into the media outlet. As of today, the La Prensa facilities remain under the control of heavily armed police officers who are not allowing journalists or other staffers to enter.

The recent events involving La Prensa are just part of a series of attacks and acts of intimidation  by the Nicaraguan government against the press and critical voices. More than 30 journalists have been summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in connection with a criminal investigative  process initiated in May against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation based on allegations of money laundering. During questioning, officials have threatened journalists with potential prosecution under the Special Cybercrimes Law related to information they have published. These actions demonstrate a clear pattern of using the judicial system to threaten the press and critical voices.

In recent months, authorities have opened judicial processes against individuals critical of the government and political opposition leaders, several of whom are currently being investigated for alleged treason under Law 1055, the Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace. To date, 33 individuals have been detained for exercising their right to dissent and labeled “opponents of the government,” including sports journalist Miguel Mendoza and political commentator Jaime Arellano. Several dozen other journalists have been forced into exile or displaced within Nicaragua displacement to avoid potential criminal charges or unjust imprisonment.

It is clear that these events constitute harassment of the press and blatantly inhibit journalists from doing their jobs at a moment when their work is crucial. In these months leading up to scheduled national elections, respect for democracy, human rights and civil liberties is vitally important.

The Nicaraguan government’s actions contravene the Declaration of Chapultepec, as well as the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights (notably Article 13), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (specifically Article 19). Additionally, Principle 5 of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states: “Prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law. Restrictions on the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression.”

As organizations dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of expression and press freedom:

  1. We call on the member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS) and authorities across the international community to publicly condemn the ongoing violations of freedom of expression and press freedom taking place in Nicaragua; and call on their governments to urge Nicaraguan authorities to guarantee adequate conditions for free, fair and transparent elections to take place. In addition, we urge the Nicaraguan authorities to ensure the safety and protection of all those who exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, including any individuals who have been detained, charged or summoned to appear before judicial authorities.
  2. We urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to reiterate their request that the Nicaraguan government allow their representatives to visit to the country in order to verify the current situation of human rights and freedom of expression situation in the wake of a deterioration of these conditions from May to August 2021.
  3. We call on the human rights mechanisms of the OAS and UN to undertake a coordinated response to the ongoing human rights crisis in Nicaragua.
  4. We demand that the Nicaraguan Public Prosecutor’s Office halt all aggressive actions, harassment and prosecutions of independent media outlets and journalists.
  5. We insist that Nicaraguan customs authorities release to La Prensa the printing materials that remain in their possession, in compliance with their legal obligations.
  6. We call for the immediate release of the three imprisoned La Prensa executives: Cristiana Chamorro, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro and Juan Lorenzo Holmann, as well as the presidential candidate and journalist Miguel Mora, sports journalist Miguel Mendoza, political commentator Jaime Arellano and all other political prisoners who remain arbitrarily detained in Nicaragua’s prisons.
  7. We urge the Nicaraguan government to comply with its international commitments to guarantee the right of journalists to work freely and safely in order to provide reliable information on issues of public interest and ensure the right of citizens to access information.

 

[1] The importation of paper, machinery, equipment and spare parts for print media outlets, radio and television stations, along with the importation, circulation and sale of books, magazines, brochures, school and scientific teaching materials, daily newspapers and other publications shall be exempt from all types of municipal, regional and fiscal levies. Tax laws shall regulate these matters. Public, corporate and private media outlets will not be subjected to prior censorship. The printing press or its accessories, or any other means or equipment intended for dissemination of thought, shall under no circumstances be confiscated as instruments or evidence of crimes.

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Source: MEDIA FEED

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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