Carlos Fernando Chamorro built his reputation as one of Nicaragua’s best-known journalist by documenting Daniel Ortega’s brutal crackdown on opposition protests that began in April 2018. Just last week, however, Chamorro found himself on the run from the Nicaraguan government and is now in exile in Costa Rica.
Chamorro had said in an interview with The Guardian in December that he did not plan to leave Nicaragua, despite his offices in Managua having been raided by authorities.
As Chamorro made the critical decision to flee to Costa Rica, he cited “extreme threats” that both he and his fellow Nicaraguan journalists were facing. He added that fleeing the country was the only way to completely ensure his “physical integrity and freedom.”
Carlos Fernando Chamorro comes from a long line of Nicaraguan journalists. His father was executed by the Somoza regime for his journalism. Today, Chamorro faces the same threats against his work from #Ortega, but he won’t back down. #SOSNicaragua https://t.co/Yn9svEAYHv pic.twitter.com/1jJ9ex8xcn
— Victims of Communism (@VoCommunism) January 29, 2019
Chamorro is not the only journalist who left Nicaragua due to threats against his physical safety. The Tico Times reported earlier this month that 55 other journalists have also fled Nicaragua since unrest began last April.
The media crackdown in Nicaragua has drawn international attention as the government continues to escalate its tactics against the press. Last month, Lucia Pineda, a journalist for Nicaraguan news source 100% Noticias, was arrested along with the company’s director Miguel Mora after Ortega’s government accused Pineda of spreading “fake news.”
In a clip posted online, Pineda appears to be speaking from a Nicaraguan prison and insisting that Ortega’s regime hand her over to Costa Rican authorities, as she holds dual citizenship there. A delegation from was granted permission to visit Pineda told a European Parliament delegation when they visited her that she was arrested without a warrant.
Me impresiona la fortaleza de esta mujer “no soy delincuente, soy periodista” cuando resalta que la llegaron a sacar de su lugar de trabajo. Te admiro Lucia Pineda. #SOSNicaragua pic.twitter.com/sH1qHklQ1e
— Tifani Roberts (@TifaniRoberts) January 29, 2019
This crackdown has received considerable attention from press freedom activists since December. Jose Miguel Vivanco, who heads the Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, categorized Ortega’s actions as a clear indication of his attempts “to rule by terror and intimidation.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists echoed Vivanco’s remarks in December when they released a statement calling on the Nicaraguan government to “immediately release the detained journalists,” and to end the “desperate campaign to silence crucial voices.”
Earlier this month, La Prensa, Nicaragua’s most widely read newspaper, allegedly had its access to printing materials blocked by Ortega’s government. In response, the paper included a blank cover page and published an editorial in which it asked the question: “Have you imagined living without information?” The editorial added that it is unclear how long the newspaper can continue publishing.
#SOSNicaragua– Sin periodismo no hay democracia –@RSF_esp se solidariza con @laprensa y todos periodistas independientes de #Nicaragua – Editorial | ¿Se ha imaginado vivir sin información? https://t.co/6ZtTByGuV5
— RSF en español (@RSF_esp) January 18, 2019
According to rights groups closely monitoring the situation in Nicaragua, four radio stations and a TV station have been forcibly shut down. Dozens of journalists have also faced physical violence and threats.
Tuesday morning, Leo Carcamo, a journalist working for Radio Dario, was kidnapped by Ortega’s police forces but was quickly released following immediate backlash by both international and local organizations.
Carcamo’s offices were burnt down by police forces last year as the uprising began between the government and opposition parties. Earlier this week, it was reported that “unknown elements” seized and destroyed equipment from the transmission plant at which Radio Dario is based.
The owner of Radio Dario, Anibal Toruno, began exposing human rights violations conducted by Ortega’s regime. Toruno placed direct blame on the local police chief, Fidel de Jesus Dominguez Alvarez, claiming that his men were responsible for the harassment and physical violence against the workers at Radio Dario, who were kidnapped and told they “worked for a terrorist” and that the radio station was doing “great harm” to Nicaragua. Toruno then received death threats himself, leading him to flee the country.
— RSF en español (@RSF_esp) January 29, 2019
Since April of last year, there have been numerous human rights violations reported by the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights. In less than a year, over 4,500 people have been wounded, along with more than 1,300 that have disappeared or been imprisoned.
The situation in Nicaragua contributes to an alarming trend towards the restriction of press freedom in Central and South American countries. Since turmoil began in Venezuela in 2013, over three quarters of the country’s newspapers were shut down by the regime. In Mexico, violence continues as multiple journalists are killed each month. Honduran journalists endure similar dangerous conditions.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Nicaragua at 90 out of 180 in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index. Although its ranking improved from 92 in 2017, this year’s ranking is unlikely to improve.