Persecution and forced escapes
The departure of 15 Nicaraguan journalists through trails on the border has been documented in the last two weeks.
HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan journalist Abigail Hernandez says that for the past couple of weeks the regime of Daniel Ortega has been applying a repressive “scorched-earth” policy against journalism. It wants to make it disappear.
Hernandez is director of the Galeria News platform and member of the Executive Commission of Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN). This organization, she says, went from the “permanent alert” that it held since February 2021 to a situation of “high alert” nowadays.
“In the last 15 days we are facing a fierce onslaught in terms of persecution of the independent press. There is an important displacement inside Nicaragua, and a new wave of journalists going into exile,” she points out.
PCIN has documented the departure of 15 Nicaraguan journalists through trails at the border in the last two weeks but believes that there are more cases. An undetermined number, but presumably many, have left their homes and are taking refuge in other houses to avoid capture.
A journalist from the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, who for security reasons prefers to keep his name confidential, is among them. He says that after covering a story, the regime’s police came looking for him at his home with the intention of detaining him. He avoided apprehension because, warned that he was wanted, he took refuge in another house first and then went abroad through “trails” and “only with the clothes he was wearing.”
“My house was raided twice by a large number of policemen. They seized all my work equipment. My physical integrity was already in danger, so I had to apply the protocol I had and look for safe houses, protection, and then I had to leave the country,” he relates.
“I am persecuted just for the fact of being an independent journalist and working for a critical media outlet in Nicaragua. That makes power uncomfortable and turns you into their enemy,” he adds.
One of the media outlets hardest hit in this latest offensive by the regime is the newspaper La Prensa. After it reported on the expulsion of the Sisters of Charity nuns on July 6, two drivers were arrested, almost all its staff persecuted and at least ten editors and photographers had to leave hastily into exile.
La Prensa, Nicaragua’s oldest and most historic media outlet, denounced that “the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo began, since Wednesday night, a manhunt” and demanded that the laws be respected. “Those arrested must be released and the persecution of the newspaper’s staff, who are people only doing their job, without committing any crime, should cease,” it stated.
“There is a witch hunt,” states Abigail Hernandez. “The characteristics of the raids is that they do not present court orders, nor do they present any justification that is based in an investigation and neither do they mention a motive. They enter homes and look for the journalist. In some cases, they go around the neighborhood and communities asking where the journalists are with names and photographs.”
“A pattern of behavior is that journalists do not have their passports renewed when they go to update them, they are confiscated at border posts when they want to leave and, in some cases, their expired identity cards are not renewed,” points out Hernandez to explain why journalists who are fleeing the regime must do so away from border stations.
“They leave illegally because they have a detention order and that puts them in all kinds of dangers, including sexual attacks, mainly to female journalists,” she said.
This Wednesday, police agents seized the work equipment of the Channel 10 correspondent in Boaco, Francisco Cantillano, after he reported on a sit-in protest that a group of citizens carried out to demand the release of Monsignor Jose Leonardo Urbina, who is accused in Managua’s courts for an alleged rape of a minor, in a dark chapter that the population attributes to the repression that is also maintained against the Catholic Church.
Besides stealing his equipment, the police summoned Cantillano to the city’s police station, while police agents keep his house surrounded to prevent him from leaving.
The Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), Pedro Vaca Villarreal, interviewed by the program Esta Noche, warned that the plan of Daniel Ortega’s regime is to “exterminate journalism” in Nicaragua.
“Reports of raids, persecution of journalists in their home environment, or that of relatives, are constant. There are signs to believe that there is a plan to exterminate journalism, for it to disappear as a profession in Nicaragua,” said Vaca Villarreal.
Journalists in exile
Although there are no more journalists detained yet from this latest crackdown, acknowledges Abigail Hernandez, a member of PCIN’s board of directors, the organization has registered an increase in police surveillance against journalists. “We continue to document stolen equipment and express detentions, which are 15-to-30-minute detentions where they are threatened that at any moment they can be imprisoned and it is made clear to them that they are going to be arrested if they continue reporting,” she says.
“We have been doing underground journalism for a year now, we will continue working that way and each media outlet must look for new ways to innovate,” points out the journalist. “This is not only a problem of media outlets. Nicaraguan citizens must reflect on the silence, on the information that is not reaching the citizenry.”
The regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario militarily occupied the building of La Prensa newspaper, the television channel 100% Noticias, and the group of news platforms of Confidencial, Esta Semana and Esta Noche.
The Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study (Fundamedios) estimates that about 135 Nicaraguan journalists have been forced to work in exile due to the repression of the regime. Another 12 journalists and people linked to the media remain under arrest, most of them for about a year, in the infamous El Chipote prison.
*Article published in Infobae.