Nicaraguan activists intimidated and threatened for civic and human rights efforts
Francisca Ramírez, a well-known civic activist and head of the non-government organisation, Council for the Defence of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty (Consejo por la Defensa de la Tierra, Lago y Soberanía), has been repeatedly intimidated by the authorities and has also received death threats for her activism. On 15th February 2017, Ramírez reported that the government had requested a private meeting, which she refused to attend, believing it to be the authorities' attempt to influence the Council's leadership on the issue of the Inter-Oceanic Canal, a multi-billion dollar deal awarded to a Chinese corporation. In response to the meeting request, Ramirez asked that the authorities hold a public hearing on the Inter-Oceanic Canal so that civic organisations opposed to the deal could voice their views and opinions. As reported on the Monitor, the government has thus far harshly cracked down on any protest or dissent over the Canal project.
The European Parliament has expressed its concern over the situation for human rights defenders and civil society organisations in Nicaragua. On 16th February 2017, the Parliament passed a resolution requesting that the government improve the operating environment for civil society as well as comply with its international commitments, including preventing the harassment of human rights defenders, and in particular, of Francisca Ramírez.
On 28th February 2017, Lottie Cunningham Wren, the president of the Centre for Justice and Human Rights of the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast (Centro por la Justicia y los Derechos Humanos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua) received a letter with death threats, demanding that she cease her human rights efforts. Cunningham is an indigenous rights defender who has worked with over 100 communities in remote areas empowering them to organise and exercise their legal rights and protect natural resources. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement on her behalf in 2016, but the government of Nicaragua has thus far failed to provide her any protection against the threats and intimidation.
On 21st February 2017, members the Movimientos Fiscales Indignados held a peaceful protest outside the offices of the Organisation of American States in the capital, Managua. Demonstrators demanded an investigation into and report on the elections that took place in November 2016, resulting in the reelection of President Daniel Ortega. Government supporters from the Sandinista Youth Movement turned out on the day of the demonstration to threaten and intimidate the peaceful protesters.
On 5th March 2017, a group of prisoners from La Modelo prison protested against the prison administration's decision to block mobile phone reception inside the penitentiary. The prison authorities violently suppressed the protest, and prisoners' family members gathered at the prison facilities to demand information on the status of their relatives' health, following the crackdown. The family members, mostly women, who came to the prison on behalf of their relatives were attacked by the police with stones and tear gas.
During the 161st session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), representatives from the Nicaraguan government failed to attend a hearing on the situation regarding freedom of expression in the country. At the hearing, participating civil society organisations, including the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, the Centre for Justice and International Law and the Centre of Research for Communications, highlighted the following as the most pressing issues affecting freedom of expression:
- Constant harassment of journalists;
- Media ownership concentrated in a few hands; and the
- Use of defamation statutes against journalists and human rights defenders.
Both the IACHR and the above-mentioned participating civil society organisations expressed their deep concern over the absence of state representatives at the hearing, which has happened previously and seriously impacts the quality and level of dialogue between the Nicaraguan government and independent civil society.