The year 2023 began in Nicaragua with a legacy of dramatic violations of fundamental freedoms. The regional platform Voces del Sur (VDS) documented 703 cases of press freedom violations in 2022. The organization claimed to have known of more cases, however, these were not published at the request of the victims, for fear of reprisals.
According to the monitoring group, abusive use of state power (498 cases), assaults and attacks (159), and stigmatizing speech (15) were the main violations against journalists and media. State authorities and political operators of the regime are the main issuers of stigmatizing discourse through official media channels and public pronouncements.
VDS also denounced a "marked trend of attacks on women journalists and the continued exile of journalists”. At least 178 journalists have left the country since 2018.
IAPA warns about the use of La Prensa newspaper's facilities
The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) issued a warning on 16 January 2023 about the Nicaraguan government's alleged intentions to occupy the facilities of the confiscated newspaper La Prensa to open a new pro-government propaganda outlet.
IAPA President Michael Greenspon said that "it is alarming that, in addition to having illegitimately confiscated and dispossessed the assets of a private company, the regime now has the nerve to use the newspaper's assets for propaganda purposes.
La Prensa has been published digitally outside Nicaragua since the government seized its facilities on 13 August 2021. The government is now hiring staff who used to work for the company because of their specialized knowledge in the use of the newspaper's presses and other production equipment and commercial printing press, Greenspon said.
The IAPA said it was continuing its campaign for the release of Juan Lorenzo Holmann, general manager of La Prensa, and journalists Miguel Mora and Miguel Mendoza, who were sentenced to 13 and nine years in prison. It is also demanding the annulment of the sentences of Cristiana Chamorro, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, and Jaime Arellano, who are under house arrest and sentenced to eight, nine, and thirteen years in prison respectively.
Nicaraguan government denies entry to Costa Rican journalist
The government denied entry to Nicaragua to Costa Rican journalist and comedian Juan Diego Ramírez, who had intended to visit the country for tourism with a group of friends, as reported by the communicator on 3 January 2023.
Ramírez said that the police detained him at the Peñas Blancas border customs office, which serves Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and after checking his documents subjected him to a "biased" interrogation.
After an hour and a half of detention, the immigration authorities informed him that "he was not fit to enter Nicaragua", he said.
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Bishop Rolando Álvarez was accused and placed under house arrest
After more than five months in police custody, Catholic bishop Rolando Álvarez was formally charged on 14 December 2022 with the crimes of "conspiracy" and "propagation of false news", and his house arrest was ordered to continue.
The government reported that the bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa (north) was taken to the capital's courts where he was charged with "conspiracy to undermine national integrity" and "propagation of false news" to the "detriment of the state and Nicaraguan society".
Monsignor Álvarez is the first bishop to be criminally prosecuted in Nicaragua. During his first government (1985-1990), Ortega clashed with the Catholic Church and ordered the deportation to Honduras of the bishop of Juigalpa, Monsignor Pablo Vega, but no trials or imprisonment of priests took place.
Relatives of Ortega opponents found guilty
On 18 January, Judge Felix Salmerón convicted three relatives of opposition leader Javier Álvarez, including his wife and daughter, who has dual French and Nicaraguan nationality, for whom the prosecutor's office requested prison sentences of up to 10 years.
This is the first guilty verdict against relatives of a politically persecuted person, a strategy that according to human rights defenders began to be applied by the Ortega government on 13 September 2022, when the police arrested Álvarez's family when they could not find him in the house.
Álvarez, a low-profile economist and opposition activist who is in exile, said the prosecution requested an eight-year prison sentence for his wife Jeanine Horvilleur, and daughter Ana Carolina Álvarez Horvilleur, and 10 years for his son-in-law Félix Roiz, in a trial that began on Tuesday and ended at midday local time.
The crimes charged by the prosecution and admitted by Judge Felix Salmerón were "conspiracy to undermine national integrity" and "propagation of false news".
"They are going to convict innocent people out of revenge", said the opposition leader, who defines himself as "a critical and humanist citizen".
Two days later, on 20 January, a local judge found Gabriel López del Carmen guilty, accused as an alleged co-perpetrator of the crimes of conspiracy and propagation of false news. The prosecution asked for a sentence of eight years in prison, pending ratification.
Race and Equality: Nicaraguan regime breaks records in human rights violations
2022 closed on top of the year with the highest number of closures of non-governmental organizations and an exodus never seen in Nicaragua's history. It is also the year with the second-highest number of cases of people deprived of liberty for political reasons (more than 225) in the context of the socio-political and human rights crisis, only surpassed by the 674 cases registered in 2018.
As of 30 November 2022, the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners reported that there are 235 prisoners of conscience, of whom 225 have been arbitrarily detained since 2018. At least 16 of these persons were arrested in early November, in the context of the municipal elections, where the ruling Sandinista Front extended its party control to all 153 municipalities in the country.
In addition to the aforementioned violations of press freedom, 2022 also saw an unprecedented exodus from Nicaragua. At least 328,443 people emigrated this year, almost triple the 161,269 who left in 2021, a period that had also set a record in the country's migration history.
As part of its "scorched earth" policy on freedom of association, Daniel Ortega's government shut down a total of 3,108 non-profit associations in 2022, for a total of 3,182 NGOs closed since November 2018.
Translation: Alicia Quiñones | Lucina Kathmann