December 15, 2020

Menendez, Cruz Lead Bipartisan Call for Respect for Nicaraguan Civil Society and Press Freedoms

Senators express solidarity with Nicaraguan people and call on the Ortega government to respect democratic ideals and fundamental human rights

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) were joined by nine of their Senate colleagues in calling on U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Kevin K. Sullivan to leverage all diplomatic tools to ensure the safety of journalists, civil society, and political leaders in Nicaragua. 

In a letter to Ambassador Sullivan, the Senators expressed concern about recent actions to codify press censorship and further restrict activities of civil society and political opponents ahead of November 2021 presidential elections, including the recent passage of the so-called “Foreign Agents” Law and the Special Law on Cybercrimes.

“These efforts by the Ortega government represent a clear attempt to stifle political opponents and restrict citizen mobilization,” the Senators wrote. “We are deeply concerned that the recently enacted legislation constructed to silence voices critical of the Ortega government will lead to increased arrests and persecution of political opponents.”

The Senators also raised concerns about the harassment of independent news media in Nicaragua, including the recent court seizure of assets belonging to the owner of Nicavision Canal 12 – one of only two independent channels still on open air in the country.

“Since April 2018, Nicaraguans have witnessed arbitrary detentions of journalists and censorship of outlets such as 100% Noticias and Nicavision Canal 12, while Ortega allies maintain control over the majority of domestic news media,” added the Senators.

Joining Ranking Member Menendez and Senator Cruz in signing the letter were Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Find a copy of the letter HERE and below.

 

Dear Ambassador Sullivan:

We write to express our concern regarding the Ortega government’s harassment of Nicaragua’s political opposition, civil society, and independent media. Respect for fundamental freedoms is essential for the preservation of a vibrant democracy, and the exercise of free speech requires that opposition members, activists, and journalists be permitted to operate in a safe environment.

We are particularly troubled that, ahead of November 2021 elections, Nicaraguan legislators have begun to codify press censorship and further restrict activities of civil society and human rights groups. Recently, members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the Nicaraguan Congress passed legislation that mandates civil society, nongovernmental organizations, and citizens who receive funds originating from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and bars them from engaging in domestic political activities.

The Nicaraguan Congress also approved a Special Law on Cybercrimes, which would allow the Ortega government to prosecute individuals accused of spreading “false and/or misrepresented information” at its discretion. These efforts by the Ortega government represent a clear attempt to stifle political opponents and restrict citizen mobilization. We are alarmed by these efforts to provide legal justification to harass and criminalize any entity critical of the Ortega government. Moreover, despite early 2019 commitments to release all political prisoners, at least 113 political opponents remain incarcerated as arbitrary detentions and kidnappings continue. We are deeply concerned that the recently enacted legislation constructed to silence dissent will lead to increased arrests and persecution of political opponents.

The enactment of these laws is deeply concerning, especially in light of the fact that harassment of the independent news media in Nicaragua has increased dramatically in recent years. Since April 2018, Nicaraguans have witnessed arbitrary detentions of journalists and censorship of outlets such as 100% Noticias and Nicavision Canal 12, while Ortega allies maintain control over the majority of domestic news media.[1] That year, journalists documenting protests throughout the country faced intimidation, theft of personal property, and assault. In one tragic case, journalist Ángel Gahona was killed while broadcasting live on the events of April 2018. The Ortega government’s violent response to these protests reportedly resulted in upwards of 325 deaths, more than 2,000 injured, and prompted at least 70 journalists to flee Nicaragua.[2] Following a raid of the digital newspaper Confidencial and a series of threats, respected journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro was forced to seek safety in Costa Rica in January 2019 for nearly a year. 

More recently, a Managua court ordered the seizure of assets belonging to Mariano Valle Peters, the owner of Nicavision Canal 12—which is one of only two independent channels still on open air in Nicaragua.[3] Dating back to 2011, Mr. Valle’s outlet has experienced repeated theft of equipment, police intimidation and assault of reporters, as well as frequent tax audits—all of which seems to be targeted intimidation toward the channel.

We urge you to utilize all diplomatic tools to ensure the safety of journalists, civil society, and political opponents. In closing, we reaffirm our solidarity with the Nicaraguan people. Press freedom and freedom of expression are integral to the preservation of democracy, and we call on the Ortega government to respect democratic ideals and the fundamental human rights of all Nicaraguans.

Sincerely,

 

 

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[1] The Guardian, “’We’re going to kill you’: Nicaragua’s brutal crackdown on press freedom,” December 10, 2018. Accessed on October 8, 2020 at https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/dec/10/nicaragua-journalists-press-freedom-crackdown-ortega.

[2] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “One Year after the Onset of the Crisis in Nicaragua, IACHR Once Again Expresses Its Permanent Commitment to Victims of Human Rights Violations,” April 17, 2019. Accessed on October 8, 2020 at https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2019/101.asp.

[3] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Nicaragua court seizes assets of independent broadcaster Canal 12,” September 14, 2020. Access on October 8, 2020 at https://cpj.org/2020/09/nicaragua-court-seizes-assets-of-independent-broadcaster-canal-12/.

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