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Country in focus: Nicaragua

Population GDP/Capita USD Capital City 2018 XpA Scores
6,466,000 2,029 Managua Freedom of Expression: 0.05
ICCPR ratified 1980 Nicaragua was an XpA Decliner over each of our four time periods (2017-2018, 2015-2018, 2013-2018, and 2008-2018). Journalists killed in 2018: 1 Civic Space: 0.04

Constitution of Nicaragua 1987 (revised 2014)

TITLE IV, CHAPTER I, ARTICLE 30

Nicaraguans have the right to freely express their convictions in public or in private, individually or collectively, in oral, written or any other form.

Digital: 0.04
Media: 0.11
Protection: 0.05
Transparency: 0.02

 

Nicaragua (4th quartile) saw a devastating crisis in 2018, when the environment for dissent of any kind collapsed amid a violent and total crackdown by President Daniel Ortega’s security forces, parapolice forces, and pro-government mobs. The crackdown left 212 dead, 1,337 wounded, and 507 deprived of their liberty.[1]

Nicaragua was a Decliner between 2017 and 2018, experiencing the world’s biggest drop in scores for four of the five XpA themes during that period. Though Nicaragua’s scores have been declining for some years, the score declined 86% over the one-year period.

Figure 18: 

The crackdown was characterised by the state using arbitrary and excessive use of force, parapolice groups, and violent pro-government mobs, known as ‘shock forces’, who acted with the tacit permission of the authorities.

The authorities responded by obstructing those who sought medical care after violence, arbitrarily detaining young people, stigmatising protesters, using censorship, threatening leaders of social movements, and conducting inadequate state investigations.[2]

The level of violence the population suffered went well beyond maintaining public order. Coordinated action was taken to choke the space for dissent and punish those who spoke out, with the aim of dissuading public participation and expression. A wave of illegal land occupations by pro-government groups accompanied the crisis.[3]

For a decade, Ortega’s government has been centralising power and reforming institutions to gain direct personal control over the police and army and to run for indefinite election. The Electoral Council has barred political parties and removed opposition lawmakers in Ortega’s favour, and the Supreme Court of Justice has allowed Ortega to circumvent a constitutional prohibition on re-election by running for a second term.[4] This laid the foundations for 2018’s leap into autocracy.

Protest erupts over social-security reform

On 18 April 2018, protests began against pension-reform plans that would have increased taxes and reduced benefits. The movement quickly gained character as anti-government protest.

From the first day of the protests, the government responded with excessive force, including firearms, live rounds, and unnecessary use of ‘less-than-lethal’ weapons, such as rubber bullets and teargas. A radio station in Leon was burnt to the ground, killing the arsonists, and reporter Ángel Gahona was killed live on air in Bluefields.[5] Medical professionals reported numerous victims with bullet wounds to the head, eyes, and neck, and trajectories consistent with extrajudicial execution and arbitrary use of lethal force, which amounts to intentional killing.[6]

Arbitrary detention was a key strategy for crushing protests, with 507 detained during the protests. The arrests were characterised by disproportional use of force, many with no basis in law or no form of due process. The majority of those detained were subjected to human rights violations, including cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, some of which constituted torture – beatings, waterboarding, electric shocks, and even rape.[7] State agents beat and threatened to kill detainees.

As protests continued, a propaganda campaign sought to characterise the movement as ‘terrorism’, ‘organised crime’, chaos and death, organised by those who wanted to violate Nicaraguan families’ right to work.[8] State news outlets were used to push these messages; Radio Nicaragua, under direct government control, consistently referred to the social protests as a terrorist coup.[9]

Vice President Rosario Murillo spoke out against feminists, suggesting they held responsibility for crimes committed during deadly clashes, and demanded action against their ‘selfishness, vanity, and self-serving blindness’.[10]

Crackdown violates rights on a massive scale

Medical staff were prevented from treating protesters; entrances and exits to hospitals were blocked, as was the movement of ambulances – including members of the Red Cross.[11] Many people also reported being too afraid to visit medical centres, even though they were injured, and over 100 doctors and nurses were fired from the public sector for treating injured protesters.[12]

In connection with the protests, 320 people were prosecuted. Among these were 136 people accused of terrorism-related offences, some under a new counterterrorism law enacted in July.[13] Due process was routinely violated in the course of these prosecutions. Two people were convicted for the murder of journalist Ángel Gahona, but concerns remained that the conviction was arbitrary, and lacked due process, in order to impede real investigation of state responsibility.[14]

Both direct and indirect censorship were employed during and after the protests. Journalists were obstructed from working, and regulator TELCOR particularly targeted and pressured independent media, taking channels off the air entirely for 1–6 days.[15] There were also digital attacks on outlets; weekly Confidencial suffered periods of blockage and denial of service during distinct periods of the protest, such as when they published a list of the dead, and La Prensa website also experienced cyberattacks.[16]

The dust settles on a new Nicaragua

Though there is no longer violence on the streets, a state of tension persists in Nicaragua, and social violence continued to rise throughout 2018.

Journalists and outlets who were critical of the government during the violence now live and work under constant stigma, threats, harassment, and obstruction. Many have left the country; one was even being deported in October.[17] As of June 2019, at least 50 Nicaraguan journalists were living in exile.[18]

After the wave of violence, the state failed to conduct investigations into human rights abuses and violations, even failing to ensure the families of victims saw justice by actively obstructing legal complaints and autopsy requirements.[19] Many families do not make complaints or reports for fear of reprisal.

TV stations were also targeted; on 30 November, telecommunications regulator TELCOR suddenly deprived outlet 100% Noticias of its broadcast signal, without reason. Police also stormed and trashed the building where the transmitters of radio station Mi Voz were kept.[20]

In December, authorities cancelled the legal registration of nine CSOs, all of which were human rights groups that had been active for decades.[21]

 

 

[1] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 2018, p7

[2] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 2018, p7

[3] Freedom House, ‘Nicaragua’, Freedom in the World 2019, available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/nicaragua

[4] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p425, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[5] Committee to Protect Journalists, Nicaragua: A Crackdown in Four Parts, 5 August 2019, available at https://cpj.org/blog/2019/08/nicaragua-journalists-protests-jailed-attacked-surveilled.php

[6] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 2018, p8

[7] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 2018, p9; Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p425, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[8] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 2018, p9

[9] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, p209, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[10] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[11] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 2018, p8

[12] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[13] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2019, p426, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019

[14] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, p209, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[15] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, p210, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[16] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, p212, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[17] Edison Lanza, Relator Especial para la Libertad de Expresión, Informe Anual de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2018, OEA/SER.L/V/II, 17 March 2019, p212, available at http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/reports/annual.asp

[18] Committee to Protect Journalists, Nicaragua: A Crackdown in Four Parts, 5 August 2019, available at https://cpj.org/blog/2019/08/nicaragua-journalists-protests-jailed-attacked-surveilled.php

[19] Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Graves violaciones a los derechos humanos en el marco de las protestas sociales en Nicaragua, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 86, 21 June 18, p10

[20] Leonor Álvarez, ‘Periodista Álvaro Montalván: “Me apuntaban con un AK-47 mientras destruían mi radio”’, La Prensa, 25 August 2018, available at https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2018/08/25/politica/2463796-periodista-alvaro-montalvan-apuntaban-con-un-ak-47-mientras-destruian-mi-radio

[21] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

 

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