In May, MediaFile reported on the Nicaraguan government’s censorship of the media following a popular uprising in April. In the past month, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has escalated this crackdown on the free press by raiding media outlets and harassing and detaining journalists.
Anti-government protests broke out in April and a brutal police response to the demonstrations, which included the use of live ammunition, left more than three hundred protestors dead and even more imprisoned. One report found a large number of bullet wounds in victims’ heads and necks, demonstrating that police were shooting to kill.
In the early months of the uprising, Ortega attempted to non-violently control coverage of police violence against demonstrators. At first, the government pressured media bosses to not report on the violence. One outlet, Channel 10, initially complied, barring journalists from reporting on the protests, but later dropped the rule.
Under increasing scrutiny and opposition, Ortega increased the severity of his attacks on the media. He launched targeted harassment campaigns against outlets, specifically the formerly pro-government Channel 10.
Nicaragua now in third phase of crisis: criminalization of opposition — students, journalists, human rights works, social leaders, campesinos. Hundreds of cases of arbitrary detentions. Judicial system has collapsed. Penal system used to criminalize critical voices and opposition pic.twitter.com/WmrSqAaqyR
— Tim Rogers (@nicadispatch) December 27, 2018
In the past month, police have escalated attacks on the press, raiding the offices of at least three separate independent news outlets including Confidencial, an outlet led by one of the countries most influential independent journalists, Carlos Fernando Chamorro.
In the most recent raid at the offices of 100% Noticias, police arrested the outlet’s director, Miguel Mora, and editor, Lucia Pineda Ubau. Both journalists were formally accused of “provocation, proposition, and conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.”
Nicaragua: Dictatorship Stages “Express Justice” against Journalist Miguel Mora https://t.co/fFm15iYZgf
— Carlos F Chamorro (@cefeche) December 25, 2018
In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Mora was the subject of police harassment and intimidation. In one incident, Mora was forced into the back of a truck with a hood over his head and was told by the officers, “If you keep f***ing around, we’re going to kill you and your whole family.”
Although Ortega’s mistreatment of the press has received condemnation from various international institutions, including the UN and the Organization of American States, there is little reason to believe that the Ortega regime will respect the demands of the organizations and halt his attacks.
Earlier this month, Ortega expelled the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), a task force of independent investigators charged with looking into the violence surrounding the April protests.
A Nicaraguan journalist is “convinced that this movement is irreversible,” referring to a push to oust the country's president. “But what worries me is: How many people is Ortega going to kill before the police say, ‘We can’t keep killing people?’” https://t.co/Bo93t5klPm
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) December 25, 2018
Initially, many analysts believed that the April uprising would successfully lead to Ortega’s removal from office; however, Ortega has only strengthened his rule over the country and he is now forcing civilians to flee the country.
An estimated 60,000 people have fled the authoritarian regime, seeking refugee status in surrounding countries. One refugee in Costa Rica described the persecution he fled, saying, “They are hunting us like deer.”
Although Nicaragua’s press freedom status is rated as “partly free,” these new attacks on the media represent a broadening war by the Ortega regime on the country’s small but strong independent press.
Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro believes that the ousting of Ortega is inevitable, but adds, “What worries me is: How many people is Ortega going to kill before the police say, ‘We can’t keep killing people?’”