Washington D.C., September 25. Three Nicaraguan media directors, speaking today to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), denounced the Nicaraguan state, saying it has not complied with the precautionary measures given by the commision to protect them, their families, and their staff, but has instead escalated persecution, threats, and reprisals against their journalistic work.
Sergio León, director of La Costeñísima in Bluefields; Aníbal Toruño, director of Radio Darío in León and Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of the digital outlet Confidencial and the television news program Esta Semana, exposed their situation during the hearing “Implementation of Protective Precautionary Measures in Favor of Independent Journalists in Nicaragua,” held within the framework of the 173rd period of sessions of the IACHR.
Ana Bolaños, on behalf of the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), also participated in the hearing. She lamented that the State of Nicaragua did not attend the hearing, which demonstrates a lack of willingness to be accountable before international bodies. On the same subject, Commissioner Joel Hernández, Vice President of the IACHR, considered that this absence represented a missed opportunity and a breach of the State of Nicaragua’s obligations before the IACHR.
The speakers agreed that censorship, attacks and repression against independent journalism persist to this day in Nicaragua: media outlets Confidencial and 100% Noticias remain closed, newspapers face a state-imposed blockade of paper, and according to the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCH), a total of 1,318 cases of attacks against independent journalists have been reported through August.
Situation of La Costeñísima
Sergio León explained that La Costeñísima radio’s coverage includes the Southern Caribbean region of Nicaragua, and that directing an independent outlet has resulted in constant intimidation, threats and harassment. For this reason, Leon and his family received precautionary measures on June 15th, 2019.
“The precautionary measures are aimed at protecting me and my family’s life and safety; however, they (the authorities) have not complied with them, since the police and armed civilians acting as parastatals continue to besiege and threaten me, seeking to silence my voice and the voices of those who we echo on La Costeñísima radio,” said León. To date, the State of Nicaragua has not carried out any action to protect León or investigated the threats he has received.
In addition, León denounced that the party structures of the FSLN prohibit the population from listening to the station; that the political operators of the regime convinced the second journalist on Leon’s team to resign, which took the station’s main news program “After the News” off the air for a few days; that the station has recorded computer attacks against their website and that Sandinista Youth groups have marked the walls of the station’s office and of the alley leading to his home with threats.
Situation of Radio Darío
Aníbal Toruño, director of Radio Darío, explained that on April 20, 2018, a group of armed parastatal agents set fire to the radio station he owns, yet fortunately, 11 people who were inside the station were able to escape. Given these facts and other acts of harassment, Toruño, his family and 9 other employees received precautionary measures in July 2018.
According to Sergio Leon, the government’s refusal to respond to these aggressions “motivates other fanatics to harm our business and its workers,” threatening the community’s human right to freedom of expression.— Race and Equality (@raceandequality) September 25, 2019
The next speaker is Anibal Toruño, director of Radio Dario. Anibal was granted precautionary measures in July 2018, but the state took no action to implement them and he was forced to flee the country by threats and harassment.— Race and Equality (@raceandequality) September 25, 2019
However, Toruño has not received protection from the State; rather, he had to go into exile at the end of August 2018 and only managed to return in August of this year. “On my return to Nicaragua, I found a regime that continues to persecute independent media and journalists,” he denounced. Later, he narrated how on September 7th of this year, the station suffered new attacks, how a government-aligned group surrounded his house and painted threats on the walls and the armed attack on a caravan of which he was part.
“Radio Darío is still on the air and fighting for freedom of expression, but there is clear evidence (to prove that) the regime tries to silence the station. The exposure by the station’s workers of the state’s failure to comply with the measures and their accompanying duties is imperative,” added Toruño.
Situation of Confidencial and Esta Semana
Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of Confidencial y Esta Semana, stated that on December 13, 2018, the National Police stormed and ransacked the facilities of both outlets, and then on December 14 permanently occupied the property. Given these facts, at the end of December 2018 the IACHR granted precautionary measures to Chamorro, his family and thirteen members of his team.
Chamorro also had to go into exile in January of this year. Subsequently, eight other members of his team left the country. To date, the offices are still occupied by the Police and, despite several legal remedies and complaints, the Nicaraguan judicial system has not acted on the case and the statutes of limitation have expired.
“Despite television censorship and official intimidation, and the restrictions on freedom of expression represented by all the abuses narrated here, Confidencial, Niú, Esta Semana and Esta Noche keep on informing, challenging the persecution, from Nicaragua and from exile, through digital platforms and social networks,” said Chamorro.
The Nicaraguan media directors asked the IACHR to request provisional measures from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for those who have already received precautionary measures that the State has not complied with, and also to extend precautionary measures to benefit other journalists from Confidencial and Esta Semana facing serious risks.
In addition, they asked the IACHR to demand that the State of Nicaragua cease its censorship, harassment, intimidation and physical attacks against journalists and their families, as well as the immediate return of illegally confiscated property. They urged the Nicaraguan state to guarantee the physical integrity and rights of journalists returning from exile, so that they can exercise their profession in freedom.
The IACHR Commissioners Antonia Urrejola, Rapporteur for Nicaragua; Margarette May Macaulay, Rapporteur on the Rights of People of African Descent and Joel Hernández, Vice President of the IACHR, reiterated their commitment to continue monitoring the situation, and pledged to study the requests made by the petitioners. Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, said that in Nicaragua there is a systematic government plan to close all spaces of independent journalism and congratulated journalists for continuing to do journalism in such a hostile environment.