Washington, D.C. May 2, 2023. – Until May 2023, Cuba and Nicaragua will hold at least three journalists in prison solely for their work of informing the population about the constant human rights violations committed by the authorities. This May 3, World Press Freedom Day, these people will not be able to exercise their freedom. They have been silenced.
The figure is a small sample of the enormous amount of aggressions that these two States have committed against journalists since two historic moments experienced by their populations: April 2018 in Nicaragua, when citizens came out en masse to protest to demand the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo from power; and July 11, 2021 in Cuba, when its citizens demonstrated against shortages and the difficult political, social, economic, and rights situation on the island.
In Nicaragua, journalist Victor Ticay was arrested on the morning of April 6 of this year when he went out to film a religious procession as part of the commemoration of Holy Week. Since then, the police in the service of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have not released any information about him to his family or to the public.
About 1,243 kilometers away, in Cuba, journalist Lázaro Valle Roca was sentenced to five years in prison under the false crime of “contempt”, after publishing the report “Se calentó la Habana, lanzan octavillas conmemorando el natalicio de Antonio Maceo”, which told how some messages launched from a building in Havana, demanded that people deprived of their freedom for political reasons, be released immediately. He was arrested in June 2021.
Also in prison in Cuba is Jorge Bello Domínguez, who was sentenced to 15 years for having participated in the historic protests of July 2021.
Ticay, Valle, and Bello are not the only journalists who have been deprived of their freedom. In February 2023, the Ortega-Murillo regime released a group of 222 people who were in prison for political reasons, and banished them to the United States.
Among this group were three staff members of the press freedom organization “Fundación Violeta B. de Chamorro” journalists Miguel Mora, Miguel Mendoza; the directors of the newspaper La Prensa, Cristiana Chamorro and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, arbitrarily detained in 2021 and at least two staff members of the newspaper and the general manager of the newspaper, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, arbitrarily deprived of their freedom in 2022.
In addition to them, at least 185 Nicaraguan journalists are currently in exile, in countries such as the United States, Costa Rica or Spain, some fled to avoid arbitrary imprisonment after the approval of the Cybercrimes Law at the end of 2020 and others were prevented from returning by the regime when they had left to do work in other countries.
Journalist Angel Gahona was killed in April 2018 with a gunshot to the head while covering protests in the city of Bluefields. The Nicaraguan regime attempted to frame innocent citizens and, to this day, there has been no serious investigation to bring the culprits to justice.
The Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (Iclep) partially recorded that 40 independent journalists or those who worked or worked in the state media, emigrated during 2022 to different countries such as Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Germany, Peru and the vast majority to the United States.
According to the 2022 Annual Report presented in April 2023 by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Nicaragua had an intensification of the repressive escalation against journalists and media, while in Cuba the repression against journalists, artists and human rights defenders, constitutes an “incessant pattern”.
Cuba and Nicaragua have used laws to censor, repress, besiege, assault and confiscate media outlets, as a State policy to silence independent journalism and thus prevent complaints of human rights violations from reaching international bodies.
That is why the numbers of aggressions against media and journalists are so high in these countries: between 2021 and the first 10 months of 2022, the organization Article 19 in its report ‘Silence and banishment: The forced exile of independent journalists in Cuba’, documented that journalists suffered a total of 246 aggressions; while ICLEP recorded that on the island there were 1637 violations of press freedom during the same period of time, and 208 arbitrary detentions last year alone. On the other hand, in Nicaragua there were at least 3344 press freedom violations in the last five years, according to data from Voces del Sur.
Both Díaz-Canel and the Ortega-Murillo family know the power of independent media to denounce, and their eagerness to silence different opinions has the media as its main target. In spite of this, from exile, journalists have continued to work, gathering information on human rights violations, for example in the case of Nicaragua, their work contributed to the UN Group of Experts on Human Rights to issue a strong report in which they qualified the events in that country as crimes against humanity.
The work of journalists in denouncing, documenting and disseminating the violations of rights occurring in Cuba and Nicaragua is essential for the search for justice and reparation for the victims and the eventual justice processes to which both the leaders of those governments and those who executed their orders against a citizenry that has done nothing more than civically resist the repression of both regimes must submit.
Therefore, from the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) we condemn the imprisonment, exile, banishment and stripping of nationality to which journalists are subjected in these countries and we celebrate that, despite the difficulties, microphones and cameras continue to collect the testimonies of the victims who demand truth, reparation and justice, and contribute to the creation of historical memory of both countries.
Time has shown that censorship cannot win over the dissemination of truth and that the repressive policies of both States only strengthen the credibility of independent media.
No more censorship! Stop the repression against independent journalism!