By Elmer Rivas (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The repressive escalation of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo targets the country’s independent press, leading to the exile of at least twenty more journalists in recent weeks. The Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN) monitors the situation.
Julio Lopez, a journalist for Onda Local; David Quintana, from the Boletin Ecologico; and Sergio Marin, from La Mesa Redonda, are three of the journalists forced to leave their country to safeguard their freedom.
“We have been declared enemies for doing journalism,” says Marin, from Costa Rica.
The second raid of the Confidencial and Esta Semana studios on May 20, 2021, was the beginning of a new wave of persecution and criminalization against journalists. Since then, dozens of reporters and editors have been summoned by the Prosecutor’s Office, as witnesses in an investigation against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, for the invented crime of “money laundering.”
Some journalists cited have been threatened with the Special Cybercrime Law, known as the “Gag Law,” while the sportswriter and blogger, Miguel Mendoza, was arbitrarily imprisoned for commenting on social networks.
The criminalization of journalistic work in Nicaragua has been labeled as an attempt to impose an “information blackout” by the regime, according to a report by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which registered 44 complaints about violations of press freedom during June.
Threats and harassment
Marin went into exile after prison threats against him. The director of the La Mesa Redonda program, was circulated in a video as a leader of the “Unamos” political movement, formerly known as the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), whose leaders and former leaders —six of them— were kidnapped and continue to be held in total isolation.
“I have never belonged to that party, or any other political organization in the last 20 years,” he assures.
On the same date, they summoned a permanent guest of his program for an “interview” at the Prosecutor’s Office, to whom they asked questions to frame Marin for his journalistic work. “The situation for me in Nicaragua was already untenable,” he laments.
On the night of June 21, David Quintana realized the danger he was running if he did not take shelter. That day, Miguel Mendoza, a critic of the repression on social networks, was captured. Days before, Quintana was circulated on a Sandinista propaganda poster as next candidate to be arrested along with the sportswriter.
“It doesn’t make sense to be in prison. Nicaraguans need their independent journalists in freedom to continue reporting,” says Quintana.
On June 22, Julio Lopez was preparing to travel to Costa Rica to participate in a private activity, but the immigration authorities prevented him from leaving the country, when arrived at the Peñas Blancas border post. Before that moment, the radio journalist had not contemplated to go into exile. “At that moment I decided that I had to leave Nicaragua because my safety was in danger.”
They didn’t explain to Lopez why he had a travel restriction, but a few minutes passed by when a notification arrived at his mother’s house to appear before the Public Ministry as a witness, in the case against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.
Lopez was the three-time winner of the Pedro Joaquin Chamorro Excellence in Journalism Award, which was awarded in 15 editions by the now-defunct foundation. He also participated in journalism workshops. “My relationship with the Foundation has been completely transparent and public. At some point I benefitted from a journalistic scholarship, and that is not a crime, neither here nor anywhere else in the world,” he said.
For Lopez, the partisanship of public institutions, such as the Prosecutor’s Office, violates the rights of any citizen. “There is no guarantee that rights will be respected, neither as a witness in a case, nor as someone under investigation.”
The official hate speech
Last week, Vice President Rosario Murillo warned independent journalists about publishing “fake news” on health issues, with information from “phony doctors with false prognosis,” and she threatened them to be punished with the Special Cybercrime Law.
The Government’s onslaught to achieve complete censorship and self-censorship by citizens, ranges from stigmatization to criminalization, persecution, threats and harassment of journalists who cover the news on the street.
Antonia Urrejola, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, recently said that in Nicaragua “there is harassment of independent journalism.”
“Repression has not ceased in Nicaragua, everything has been silenced, and this leads to the situation in Nicaragua being one of the most troubling in the entire continent,” she said.
Urrejola insisted that “you cannot breathe in Nicaragua. That is the truth. You cannot breathe in democratic terms and of public debate, because any voice that stands out is being harassed, imprisoned or has to leave.”
Since April 2018, Quintana has suffered physical assaults, equipment theft, and even a trial on alleged slander charges. But what the journalist fears the most, is the fanaticism of the FSLN ranks, fueled by an official hate discourse. “What can be expected from the repression that there is? Anything and everything.”
Challenges of journalism
To confront the hate language and repression, Lopez proposes to respond with the permanent strengthening of journalistic quality, to combat fake news and overcome the censorship blockade. “The main fake news manufacturing in Nicaragua comes from the official discourse.”
Resistance also goes hand in hand with safekeeping. “We need to be free in order to continue reporting,” says Quintana.
“We do not have to be in Nicaragua to continue reporting. People, in their houses and offices, take a cellphone and can see the media reports that the regime has not been able to silence…that will not be prevented by the regime,” Marin assures.