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13 July 2018

Several attacks against human rights defenders and journalists amid political crisis in Nicaragua

Front Line Defenders condemns the pattern of attacks against human rights defenders and journalists who have been documenting serious human rights abuses in the context of ongoing demonstrations in Nicaragua.

Since 18 April 2018, demonstrators opposing social security reforms and President Daniel Ortega’s administration have been met with violent repression as human rights defenders and journalists in Nicaragua have reported on multiple human rights violations. Murders, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, physical aggressions involving the use of stones, sticks, rubber bullets, and tear gas, threats, and acts of intimidation have all occurred in the context of the demonstrations. According to local organisations, these attacks are being perpetrated by State security forces and by groups of civilians linked to the Juventud Sandinista (Sandinista Youth Movement) who act with impunity. They have taken place with the complicity and consent of the police and have resulted in outbreaks of violence that have already claimed the lives of at least 300 people and injured thousands. Hundreds more have been detained.

Several members of Centro Nicaraguense de Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights – CENIDH) have been the subjects of smear campaigns and intimidation over the past three months. Dr. Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, president of CENIDH, has been the victim of a continuous smear campaign against her and her work in Nicaragua. Pictures of the defender have been published in social and mainstream media allied to the government, in which she appears covered in blood and is described as an instigator of violence. Adelayda Sánchez and Braulio Abarca, human rights defenders and members of CENIDH, have received continuous threats and were labelled as instigators of violent demonstrations in the country. Unidentified men also threw rocks at the house of the regional coordinator of CENIDH in Matagalpa, causing extensive damage to her property. The defender was with her husband and two children inside the house when the attack took place.

On 30 May 2018, 13 members of Comisión Permanente de Derechos Humanos (Permanent Commission on Human Rights – CPDH) were arbitrarily detained in Rivas City. The group were in the city on a field work assignment to investigate disappearances in the area. The defenders were released after six days, however they have been charged with possession of illegal weapons, attempted homicide, endangerment, and murder, because of their alleged participation in the violent demonstrations in Boaco.

According to CENIDH, since the beginning of the protests, journalists reporting on the violence have also been the target of attacks and smear campaigns across the country. On 10 June 2018, Sydney Josué Garay, a journalist from the national newspaper La Prensa who has reported on authorities’ excessive use of force during the recent protests in Nicaragua, along with the associated deaths, was attacked in his house by two men. The perpetrators beat him and demanded his company phone and passport. They also threatened to kill him with a machete. The journalist had received threats from the Juventud Sandinista weeks prior, demanding that he stop writing materials criticising the government.

On 12 June 2018, Arnaldo Arita and Jorge Cabrera, field journalists from Reuters in Nicaragua, were attacked and robbed while covering police repression of protests in El Eden, Managua. According to CENIDH, the perpetrators were hooded men, guarded by the National Police, who violently took the journalists’ phones, cameras, chargers, computers, money and documentation. The stolen equipment had an estimated cost of at least US $6,000.

On 14 June 2018, journalists from Canal 10 and Radio Corporación were attacked by policemen in Nindirí, while they were covering the use of force against demonstrators in the municipality. The policemen confiscated and destroyed the camera of a Canal 10 reporter. Journalist Yilber Idiáquez from Radio Corporación in Masaya also reported that police shot at a team of journalists during the protest, despite their having identified themselves as members of the press by showing their identifications and equipment.

Criminalisation and smear campaigns against human rights defenders hinder their ability to continue their work on the protection of human rights, which are being severely undermined in the context of the crisis engulfing Nicaragua. Moreover, attacks against journalists and members of the press not only violate their right to freedom of expression, but also their right to access to information, and pose a risk to the independent reporting of events.

Front Line Defenders urges the Nicaraguan government to cease the repression and violence carried out by armed forces, the police and groups of civilians linked to the government against human rights defenders and journalists, and bring those involved to justice.