Nicaragua: Aggressions Against Journalists Evidences a Lack of Freedom of Expression

London, March 5, 2020- The harassment and aggressions against journalists and the President of Nicaraguan PEN Centre, Gioconda Belli, which occurred in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua during the memorial mass for the theologian and poet Ernesto Cardenal, demonstrate once again that Daniel Ortega’s government continues criminalizing the right to dissent, and the right to freedom of expression and of the press, said PEN International today, and issued an urgent call to the Nicaraguan government to protect the human rights of its citizens, including the rights of freedom of expression and worship.

On March 3 2020, there was a memorial mass and homage to Ernesto Cardenal, who died on March 1 2020, and was lying in state in the cathedral. Supporters of Daniel Ortega’s government arrived in buses early in the day to occupy the cathedral, intending to disrupt the funeral ceremony. They disrupted the homily by Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, bishop of Matagalpa, with slogans such as: “We want peace”, “They couldn’t and they will not succeed”, and “Long live Daniel Ortega.” They accused Ernesto Cardenal of being a traitor, “according to information from Gioconda Belli.”

At the end of the ceremony, Ortega’s supporters not only blocked the exit of the casket, they attacked at least four journalists as well as the writer and President of the Nicaraguan PEN Centre, Gioconda Belli. She was pursued and attacked with insults referring to her critical statements against the government.

The journalists who were wounded while they were covering the ceremony are journalist from La Prensa and CNN, broadcast journalist was robbed his video and camera equipment. Two journalists of Boletín Ecológico and Nicaragua Investiga were taken to a hospital.

The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights condemned the violence by government supporters during the mass celebrating Ernesto Cardenal’s death as an “not only an attack on the memory of Ernesto Cardenal but also an affront to the freedoms of assembly, religion and expression in Nicaragua”.

“The deterioration of the freedom of expression in a country can be measured by aggressions against journalists and efforts to block media reporting, along with criminalizing political opinions, as were all demonstrated during the funeral of the intellectual and poet Ernesto Cardenal, an important voice in Spanish language literature and a critic of the Ortega administration,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Several days before, on February 25 2020, during a demonstration to free political prisoners, police authorities pursued, attacked and threatened to kill reporters such as Noel Miranda, a reporter from Artículo 66 and Yeltsin Espinosa, collaborator in Nicaragua Actual. According to media sources, at least 20 houses and offices of government critics, journalists and civil organizations, were closed by police.

PEN International urgently calls on the authorities in Nicaragua to cease the harassment of journalists, writers, bloggers and independent media, and to respect the right to freedom of expression and information, as guaranteed by Article 30 of the Constitution of Nicaragua and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by the State of Nicaragua.