Latin America, 24 March 2022. We, the undersigned organisations, condemn the judicial farce taking place in Nicaragua where independent journalists and former workers for the now-defunct Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation (FVBCH) have been sentenced to between 7-13 years in prison.
On Wednesday, March 23, Juan Lorenzo Holmann, general manager of the newspaper La Prensa, was found guilty of alleged money laundering. Judge Nadia Camila Tardecillas, in the Second Criminal District Court, requested a sentence of nine years and four months in prison plus a monetary fine. Holmann was arrested on August 14 when police raided the newspaper, which at the time was the only independent print media still circulating in the country. His trial ended on Wednesday, March 23rd and his final sentence will be read on March 31st.
On Monday, 21 March, journalist and aspiring presidential candidate, Cristiana Chamorro, was found guilty on charges of money laundering, “abusive management” and “ideological falsehood” by Judge Luden Martín Quiroz in the Ninth Criminal District Court of Managua. The sentence is linked to her tenure as president of the FVBCH. Ms. Chamorro is also set to pay a fine of an amount equivalent to the alleged laundering. The trial took place from 3-7 March at the Evaristo Vásquez Police Complex—commonly known as “El Chipote”—where detainees have been subjected to degrading, cruel and inhuman treatment, including acts of torture. In addition, most of the political prisoners in detention at the facility are being held incommunicado.
The arbitrary judicial process against Chamorro and other detainees took place in the presence of an intimidating police contingent and failed to provide any guarantees for due process, including the fact that very limited time was given for defence lawyers to submit statements in support of their clients. Among other serious irregularities and ignoring the fact that the defendants possessed proof of their innocence, the trial came to an end without the presentation of more than 1000 key documents supporting the defendants’ cases. Cristiana Chamorro has been under house arrest since 2 June 2021. It is not yet clear where she will be transferred.
In addition to Chamorro, three other former FVBCH workers were convicted on 21 March. Accountant Marcos Fletes and finance officer Walter Gómez were sentenced to 13 years in prison for money laundering. Fletes is also set to pay a fine of 300 days, and another one equivalent to three times the amount that was allegedly laundered. Even Chamorro’s driver, Pedro Vásquez, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for being an “accomplice in the crime of money laundering”.
The Nicaraguan justice system, serving the authoritarian government, also sentenced Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, Cristiana Chamorro’s 70-year-old brother and a director of the La Prensa newspaper, to nine years in prison on allegations of misappropriation of funds, “ideological falsehood” and “abusive management”.
These spurious legal proceedings came on the heels of similar rulings in previous weeks wherein sports journalist Miguel Mendoza was sentenced to nine years in prison for expressing his opinions on social media, while political commentator Jaime Arellano and 100% Noticias television station founder and former presidential candidate Miguel Mora were both sentenced to 13 years in prison for “disseminating fake news” and conspiring to “undermine national integrity”.
We, the undersigned organisations, categorically denounce these rulings and others that have been issued against political prisoners detained by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s regime. We hold the Nicaraguan State responsible for the lives and safety of all prisoners of conscience. We call for their immediate release and an end to the criminalisation of their activities, as well as the reversal of all rulings that have been issued against them for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression.
In addition, we call on the international community and regional governments to strongly condemn the systematic violations of human rights taking place in Nicaragua and implement all measures at their disposal to ensure the release of Nicaraguan prisoners of conscience.
Finally, we join in the call for the United Nations Human Rights Council to, in its resolutions regarding Nicaragua, adopt a sound, independent and impartial international mechanism for exhaustively investigating and documenting the serious human rights violations that have taken place in the country since April 2018, in order to provide a foundation for accountability and punishment of all those responsible for the abuses. The rights violations that have been perpetrated include serious infringements on press freedom and the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.
Asociación Brasileña de Periodismo Investigativo - Abraji
Asociación Nacional de la Prensa Bolivia -ANP
Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador - APES
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información - CAinfo
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión- IPLEX
International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
Instituto Cubano de Libertad de Expresión y Prensa -ICLEP
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad - IPYS Perú
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad - IPYS Venezuela
Foro de Periodismo Argentino - FOPEA
Voces del Sur