PEN Nicaragua Warns of Threat to Public Freedoms

HAVANA TIMES – PEN International – Nicaragua issued a statement on September 23rd calling attention to a new law proposed by the Ortega government. The law would convert civil society organizations including independent journalists into “foreign agents” who threaten national security.

Read our translation of the PEN Nicaragua statement.

Through this pronouncement, PEN International – Nicaragua wishes to alert national public opinion, the global community of poets, journalists and writers, and all international PEN centers about a new menace hanging over Nicaragua’s freedoms.

It involves the proposed “Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents”. The governing Sandinista Front unveiled this proposal last Tuesday, September 22. They ask for it to be approved without delay in the National Assembly (Parliament), where the party holds an absolute majority.

The law is directed at exercising absolute control over the funds that individuals and legal entities receive from the outside. The argument they offer is the need to avoid these funds being used for activities that threaten “State security”.

With few exceptions, the initiative obligates anyone who receives funds from outside the country to enroll in a “Registry of Foreign Agents”. They would then have to report their income and expenses monthly, under penalty of civil and criminal penalties. Sanctions for failing to register could include the confiscation of their assets.

This measure will affect Nicaraguans who work as “advisors, public relations agents, advertising personnel, employees of information services or political consultants.” These people wouldn’t be allowed to run for public office or be candidates of any kind.  This amounts to a de facto prohibition of any opposition figures who might wish to enter the 2021 general elections.  

By including “employees of information services” in the law, the government would be exercising absolute control over hundreds of journalists. It would affect all those who work for emerging digital media and international press correspondents. Anyone who receives remuneration from outside the country would be required to register. The work of these journalists would be permanently subject to vigilance and inspection.

Broad sectors of intellectuals, attorneys, politicians and human rights advocates have raised their voices in the last few hours in rejection of this initiative. It is considered “a legal aberration”, since it violates articles 5, 6, 44, 48, 50, 51, 52, and 55 of Nicaragua’s current Constitution.  It also violates the Law of Citizen Participation, as well as international treaties and agreements regarding human rights ratified by the Nicaraguan State.

PEN International Nicaragua warns of the dangers and restrictions that this proposed law carries with it. At the same time, we issue an urgent call for solidarity among the world’s writers, poets and journalists. We request their help protecting their Nicaraguan colleagues, so that this initiative does not materialize.

Managua, Nicaragua, September 23, 2020

Executive Board, PEN Nicaragua

Read more here about events in Nicaragua