Ortega Supporters Attack Journalists Covering Funeral in Nicaragua

Supporters of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega shout slogans against anti-government people during the funeral mass for Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua March 3, 2020. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas

HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan authorities should thoroughly investigate attacks on reporters covering the funeral of writer and poet Ernesto Cardenal and ensure the safety of journalists who report on events of public interest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On March 3, groups of unidentified individuals chased, attacked, and robbed journalists covering Cardenal’s funeral at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Managua, the capital, according to news reports. The attackers shouted slogans in support of President Daniel Ortega and wore red and black bandanas, the colors of the ruling Sandinista party, according to those reports.

Police officers stationed outside the cathedral did not intervene during the attack, Jennifer Ortiz, the colleague of one of the injured journalists, told CPJ in a phone interview. CPJ emailed the press department of the Nicaraguan National Police for comment but did not immediately receive a reply.

“It is unacceptable that Nicaraguan police stood idly by while journalists were attacked at a public event,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Authorities must ensure that journalists can report on events of national importance safely and without fear. That should start with a thorough investigation into the attacks on journalists covering Ernesto Cardenal’s funeral.”

The attackers punched and kicked Hans Lawrence, a reporter at digital news outlet Nicaragua Investiga, and stole his phone, a tripod, microphones, and other reporting equipment, according to Ortiz, the outlet’s director.

Lawrence was vomiting blood after the attack, and was brought to a local emergency room, Ortiz said. He was released after about four hours, once doctors determined that he did not have internal bleeding, she said, adding that Lawrence, who has epilepsy, will undergo further exams to see if his brain was injured.

Ortega supporters also beat and robbed reporters Leonor Álvarez, of daily newspaper La Prensa, and David Quintana, of digital outlet Boletin Ecológico, according to a report by Nicaraguan news website Artículo 66.

Quintana told the website that the attackers punched him in the face and stole his phone. He was transferred to a hospital and later released, according to that report.

The attackers shoved and harassed Álvarez and stole her phone, according to Artículo 66.

“We are a small independent media, and they leave us totally defenseless,” Ortiz said. “We are outraged by how journalism has been attacked, and we are worried about what might happen in an electoral context.”

Cardenal, who died on March 1, was an acclaimed Nicaraguan poet who previously supported the Sandinista revolution but recently distanced himself from President Ortega’s government, according to news reports.

Since April 2018, news outlets have been raided, journalists have been imprisoned, and one journalist was killed while covering protests in Nicaragua, according to CPJ research.

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