Restrictions on news coverage related to Covid-19, the limitation on public information and threats to journalists critical in their work and in access to public health, continue to weaken freedom of expression in Nicaragua, and show a state that takes measures against human rights, PEN International, the PEN Nicaragua Centre and PEN America said today.
The Nicaraguan journalist Sergio León, with more than 30 years of experience and director of the La Costeñísima radio station in the city of Bluefields, was summoned on 28 May 2020 at the Directorate of Alternative Resolution of Conflicts (DIRAC), of the Judiciary, to respond to a demand for slander and libel, allegedly for reporting the situation of Covid-19 through an interview with a public official. León has been constantly threatened by his journalistic work since 2018, after the outbreak of the protests.
On 27 May 2020, PEN Nicaragua Centre warned that at least six journalists critical of the Ortega government are infected with Covid-19, and cannot go to public hospitals for fear of reprisals from the authorities. This alert was a consequence of the death from Covid-19 of Gustavo Bermúdez, who used his radio program to give information about the pandemic.
"The death of Bermúdez is a wake-up call in the face of the unstoppable wave of deaths and infections caused by the coronavirus in Nicaragua, amid the indolence of the government of Daniel Ortega who is determined to deny the disease and who has not only refused to decree measures of social isolation, but has promoted massive activities that contribute to the infection of thousands of Nicaraguans,” PEN Nicaragua Centre declared in its statement.
The lack of governmental measures against the pandemic, has caused associations such as the organization of Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN), to issue protection measures for journalists to implement themselves.
During May, journalists have denounced the authorities’ limitation on journalists’ freedom for their news coverage related to the health crisis, preventing them from approaching hospitals and accessing public information.
"The double censorship faced by journalists and writers critical of the Nicaraguan government is alarming, because this is the symptom of a government that supports disinformation and undermines freedom of expression," said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.
In addition, on 8 May 2020, the Ortega government drew up at least two ministerial agreements that empower the government to regulate the personnel of telecommunications companies which grant it liberties for digital surveillance.
PEN International, PEN Nicaraguan Centre and PEN America remind the government of Daniel Ortega that a free press, moreover, is also a key to giving an effective response to the health crisis, in light of its indispensable role in enabling access to information and promoting transparency. Therefore, we urgently call on the Government of Nicaragua to:
• Allow the free flow of information even more in times of Covid-19 crisis.
• Stop aggressions, threats and persecution of critical and independent journalists.
• Respect the agreements signed by the State of Nicaragua in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, American Convention on Human Rights, as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
• Guarantee life, access to health and other human rights to journalists and their citizens.
Translation: Lucina Kathmann, Vice President of PEN International