HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan authorities should immediately drop criminal charges against journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro and stop using the country’s justice system to harass and silence the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On August 24, the Nicaraguan attorney general’s office published an official statement announcing criminal charges against Chamorro, the director of the Nicaraguan news website Confidencial, for alleged money laundering, property and asset laundering, misappropriation and improper withholding, and abusive management.
“The criminal charges against Carlos Fernando Chamorro, one of Nicaragua’s best-known journalists, make it clear that the government of President Daniel Ortega aims to silence critical voices at all costs,” said CPJ Latin America and the Caribbean Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Nicaraguan authorities must immediately drop the absurd charges against Carlos Fernando Chamorro and put an end to their shameless campaign to intimidate and threaten the press.”
Chamorro, who has been in exile in Costa Rica since June, said on a live broadcast on Confidencial’s YouTube page on August 25 that he viewed the charges as “attempting to silence a journalist, to kill press freedom and freedom of expression.”
Chamorro also announced yesterday that Confidencial would stop broadcasting a weekly news program that had aired on Nicaraguan radio station Radio Corporación since February, citing pressure from the authorities and the new criminal charges, according to Nicaraguan news site Articulo 66. Chamorro said the program would continue to broadcast on Confidencial’s Facebook page, the report said.
Previously, on May 20, riot police raided Confidencial‘s offices in Managua and detained camera operator Leonel Gutiérrez for seven hours, as CPJ documented at the time. The publication was also raided in 2018, CPJ documented.
The statement from the Nicaraguan attorney general’s office said that the investigation into Chamorro on the charges for the alleged financial crimes is now part of a larger ongoing investigation into his sister Cristiana Chamorro, a prospective candidate in the country’s November presidential elections and the former head of the shuttered freedom of expression group Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. Cristiana Chamorro has been under house arrest since June 2 while under investigation on criminal charges including money laundering, according to news reports.
The statement also announced criminal charges against a third Chamorro sibling, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, as well as seven former employees and staff members of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, including Marcos Antonio Fletes Casco, Walter Antonio Gómez Silva, Guillermo Medrano, Ana Elisa Martínez Silva, and Lourdes Arróliga.
Fletes and Gómez have been detained since May 28, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro has been detained since June 25, according to Latin American news website Infobae.
In February, the foundation announced it was shuttering operations in Nicaragua because it refused to comply with a new law requiring organizations receiving international funding to register as foreign agents, according to news reports and an official statement by the organization. Carlos Fernando Chamorro is not affiliated with the organization.
CPJ called the Nicaraguan public prosecutor’s office for comment but the person who answered the call said they did not have any information on the charges Chamorro is facing and that the press officer was not available to provide comment.
Chamorro, reached by CPJ via messaging app, said he could not comment on the case and referred CPJ to his statements on Confidencial’s YouTube channel.
CPJ has documented a crackdown on the Nicaraguan media this year, including a police raid on the offices of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s lone remaining print newspaper, threats of criminal charges against critical journalists, and the imprisonment of journalist Miguel Mendoza, who was arrested in June.