Pedro Vaca, Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) COURTESY
Nicaragua commemorated National Journalist Day on Monday in an atmosphere of intimidation, censorship and violence against journalists by the Government headed by Daniel Ortega.
Since April 2018, when anti-government demonstrations took place, the regime has carried out a long list of humiliations against Nicaraguan journalism, which has included the confiscation of newsrooms, raids on journalists' homes, and continuous harassment against editors and editors of media.
An alarming panorama, as qualified by international human rights organizations, which could worsen in an electoral year.
Pedro Vaca, special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), warns of an “eternal aggravation” of violations against journalism in the Central American country.
"When we believe that there is already a bottom in the deterioration of the guarantees, we register an additional fact that confirms that the situation could be worse," says Vaca in this interview with EL PAÍS.
Pedro Vaca took office last October and since then he and his team have continuously followed up on complaints about harassment of journalists.
The latest event occurred over the weekend, when Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of
, denounced a new attack against members of his team when they were covering an act of a candidate for the presidential candidacy for the opposition.
The police officers detained the journalists and even seized their notebooks.
“We condemn the police search against
Doing journalism is a right.
Police espionage is a crime ”, denounced Chamorro, who has personally suffered persecution by the Government, after in December 2018 he assaulted and confiscated the writing of his magazine, today converted into a maternal clinic.
“I see an extremely worrying situation for press freedom and in general for the exercise of civil liberties in Nicaragua.
In this scenario, one can speak of a deployment of very sophisticated censorship mechanisms, ”explains Vaca in a telephone interview.
“Nicaragua is one of the countries in the region where it is common to see police forces harassing, harassing journalists and the media.
In this use of force against the press, we also find the forced occupation of media facilities and raids without any kind of legal support to the residences of journalists in different parts of the country.
This is serious, but it contrasts with a very resilient and courageous journalism, which refuses to give in to censorship pressures ”.
One of the concerns of the rapporteur is the manipulation of justice by the Ortega government, which uses it as a weapon to intimidate and punish critical voices.
“We are not only talking about a human rights crisis, but that crisis occurs in an environment of significant erosion of the rule of law,” says Vaca.
The rapporteur refers to the case of the murder of journalist Ángel Gahona, which occurred in 2018 when he broadcast on Facebook a confrontation between riot control troops and protesters, to show the double standards of Nicaraguan justice.
The reporter was shot in the head.
Gahona's colleagues in Bluefields condemned the murder and blamed the National Police, which unleashed harassment and intimidation against the reporters who witnessed the event.
The crime of the journalist has remained in impunity and is a sign of the null interest of the Nicaraguan judicial system in clarifying the violent acts against reporters and critics of the Government.
“While there is a slow judiciary, which has not come close to clarifying this case, which keeps it in impunity, which is also slow to process legal claims for the usurpation and confiscation of media headquarters, that judicial power shows speed to convict journalists for publishing information of high public interest, contrary to inter-American standards on limits to freedom of expression, ”says Vaca.
"We do not explain why justice is slow to balance or at least analyze arbitrary actions such as the usurpation of media headquarters or clarify cases of murders of journalists and instead is exaggeratedly quick to punish dissonant voices," he adds .
In this context of repression against the press, Nicaraguan journalists face a year that poses a new challenge in their profession: the coverage of an electoral process with Daniel Ortega controlling all the institutions and without showing signs of wanting to leave power.
Vaca affirms that he fears that the harassment against the press will intensify, without the reporters having guarantees of protection.
“There is a growing stigmatization of the media from official voices and in positions of responsibility, which in itself is undemocratic, but ends up encouraging some sectors of society related to the authorities to take intimidating actions against journalists.
Here is a very worrying variable for us, which is the eventual normalization of this context.
We fear that censorship and the intimidating environment, self-censorship and fear could be normalized as a rule, ”warns Vaca.
The IACHR rapporteur highlights, however, the courage of Nicaraguan journalists, who continue to report despite the violence they suffer: “Being a journalist in Nicaragua implies a high dose of courage and civic commitment, and as long as that exists there will be no restriction initiative that can silence them.
It involves a very difficult job, because the personal, family, union and social costs of doing journalism in such a restrictive environment are enormous.
I am absolutely sure that the reconstruction of the guarantees of civil liberties, which I hope they return to Nicaragua sooner rather than later, will go through the existence and permanence of journalism ”.