Carlos F. Chamorro: “Ortega Can’t Confiscate Journalism”

Riot squads pushed and expelled human rights activists and journalists covering a press conference by the director of Confidencial.

By Franklin Villavicencio (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Nicaragua’s Police, under the orders of Daniel Ortega, violently broke up a press conference Monday in Managua. Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, human rights icon Vilma Nuñez and a group of reporters covering the event were expelled by force.

Chamorro called the press conference to demand the return of the building housing the Confidencial and Esta Semana offices. These were illegally seized in December 2018.

“We are verifying the occupation that took place in the early morning of December 14, 2018. Our publication is being occupied by armed police. Before our offices were occupied, they were looted,” Chamorro said two years after the attack.

Who was at the press conference?

National and international media were present at the conference, as well as some of Confidencial and Esta Semana’s editorial teams.

“The dictatorship has forcefully closed down the physical facilities of this media outlet, its equipment was stolen, our publication offices are being occupied, but they will never be able to silence us,” Chamorro said. “They will never confiscate journalists’ critical spirit, our conviction, our duty to the Nicaraguan people.”

CENIDH president, Vilma Nuñez, is protected by journalists so she doesn’t get hurt by riot police. Photo: Nayira Valenzuela

When Chamorro began to explain the appeal presented by the Institute of Race and Equality to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), with the intention of getting justice via international channels, two patrol cars suddenly showed up with riot squads and they cordoned off the offices’ entrance. Police officers pushed and shoved Chamorro, Dr. Nuñez and Desiree Elizonda, the journalist’s wife and director of Cabal, whose offices were also seized.

“We are holding a press conference,” Chamorro told the police. One of the officers in charge of the operation demanded that they leave the grounds. Finally, the journalist said “this is another display of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship. This is the police state that we live in coming to you live. We are here to demand the end of censorship.” Riot squards forced those present to leave.

“They can’t confiscate journalism”

The press conference began at around 10 AM outside the newspaper’s offices, and it finished some twenty minutes later when the police forcefully removed people.

“It’s irrelevant that the police state uses excessive force because they won’t be able to confiscate our ideas. They will never be able to confiscate journalism, never. They won’t stop the independent press from reporting and telling the Nicaraguan people and the world what you are doing because you carry out illegal orders,” Chamorro told them as he left the perimeter that the riot squads had cordoned.

Nunez, president of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), said: “We have always supported journalism that has been attacked in many ways. We have always stood by Confidencial, and that’s what we are doing today, we will continue to stand by their side.”

Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro rebukes police officers while they remove him from outside the occupied Confidencial building. Photo: EFE/Jorge Torres

Two years after the attack

December 2018 was a terrible month for independent journalism in Nicaragua. In addition to Confidencial, 100% Noticias TV channel’s offices were also closed down and two journalists were imprisoned: Miguel Mora, the director; and Lucia Pineda Ubau, chief editor. Both of them were accused the following day of “inciting hate”.

When Confidencial’s offices were looted, over 30 computers were stolen, as well as seven cameras, two video editing machines, dozens of hard drives, accessories and private and institutional information belonging to the company. All this happened without a court order, during the night of December 13, and the early morning of December 14, 2018.

On December 15th 2018, Chamorro and his team were also forcefully removed from the police station in Plaza El Sol, when they went to ask for answers as to why their offices were assaulted without a warrant the day before.

In spite of this, the TV programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche and Confidencial’s website continue to report around the clock.

After the attack, the government also imposed censorship on TV channel Canal 12, which used to broadcast the programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche. From that moment onwards, digital platforms are vital for this team of journalists, who continue reporting from outside and inside the country.

“What Daniel Ortega, the Supreme Police Chief, did was to send two riot squad patrol cars to attack us. But they won’t be able to silence independent media like this. They won’t be able to kill the truth, they won’t be able to confiscate journalism,” Chamorro stressed.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.