Regressive changes to social security system lead to protests and a brutal crackdown
📢📢📢#SOSNicaragua Hacemos un llamado a organizaciones y articulaciones nacionales, regionales e internacionales para que se sumen al siguiente comunicado dirigido al Gobierno de Nicaragua.— IM-Defensoras (@IM_Defensoras) April 22, 2018
Pueden leer el comunicado y adherirse a través del enlace: https://t.co/WgWIkAq8m5 pic.twitter.com/14eL1pw0IX
On 18th April, President Daniel Ortega issued a decree that would modify the social security system. The changes would include an increase in the amount that workers and employers have to contribute to social security but would lead to a decrease in pensions received upon retirement.
The decree sparked widespread social discontent and massive protests around the country for several days, which are detailed below. The government's reaction to the protests was a harsh crackdown with excessive force and violence. In response to the unrest, on 22nd April Ortega announced that the government will withdraw the proposed changes.
"Vamos hacia adelante hasta que se vaya la familia presidencial", sentenció un anciano que se sumó a la protesta de jóvenes en la Upoli. Rechazan discurso que brindó de Daniel Ortega #SOSNicaragua #SOSINSS #Nicaragua #ResistenciaCiudadana ➡️ https://t.co/5t2OTZnrJp pic.twitter.com/bPWise12jH— La Prensa Nicaragua (@laprensa) April 22, 2018
During the three days of protests following Ortega's decree, protesters were killed and at least 70 were injured when security forces used excessive force against demonstrators. Although an exact number of those killed is yet to be confirmed, local organisation Centro Nicaragüense de Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Centre for the Defence of Human Rights in Nicaragua) documented at least 25 protesters who were killed, as well as a number who were disappeared and arbitrarily detained.
Despite claims by Vice President Rosario Murillo that there were only a few scattered protests, local media outlets reported at least 40 protests in different parts of the country taking place up to 21st April. The organisation IN-Defensoras reported disruptions of protests from pro-government groups that allegedly "travel on state buses and, with the complicity of the police, intimidate, assault and subtract cameras and cellphones from demonstrators".
The state repression of the protests has been condemned by several international organisations, including the United Nations, that called on:
"...the Nicaraguan authorities to act to prevent further attacks on demonstrators and on the media. The Nicaraguan State should abide by its international obligations to ensure that people are able to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and association".
#ÚltimoMinuto Gobierno de Daniel Ortega ordena censura contra el canal 100% Noticias por transmitir protestas contra las reformas al #INSSNica #Nicaragua >> https://t.co/OFPNcgEdXT pic.twitter.com/EIaHVpcrLX— La Prensa Nicaragua (@laprensa) April 19, 2018
During the protests, at least four media outlets were reportedly shut down to prevent the dissemination of news about the protests. Three were shut down momentarily and the news outlet 100% Noticias is still censored, and is only broadcasting through social media at the time of writing. In addition, several journalists were injured and on 21st April, journalist Angel Eduardo Gahona was shot dead while covering the protests in the region of Bluefields.
El periodista Ángel Eduardo Gahona, director del noticiero El Meridiano, en Bluefields, recibió un disparo en la cabeza mientras transmitía en vivo el enfrentamiento entre antimotines y ciudadanos. https://t.co/HclDPmzAs4— La Prensa Nicaragua (@laprensa) April 22, 2018
In a separate incident in March, citizens protested a new proposal by the country’s Vice President to regulate social media. The alleged purpose of the proposal is to counter cyber-bullying and fake news in the country but media watchdogs and civil society view the proposal as "a threat and an outrage to the already restricted freedom of information and communication". At the time of writing, no official debate had started in the National Assembly.
At the General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association that took place between 13th-15th April, Nicaragua was classified as having one of the worst situations in terms of freedom of expression in Central America. Some of the concerns relate to regulations of social media and the monopoly that Ortega has over media companies.
On 9th April, the Ministry of Governance reportedly sent a letter to Fundacion del Rio, an environmental organisation, ordering the Foundation to halt any "activities that do not correspond to the objectives for which they were granted legal status".
The letter came around the time Fundacion del Rio was raising awareness of a widespread fire in the nature reserve Indio Maiz and was collecting funds to help the local firefighters. The day after receiving the order, a group of activists from the organisation tried to visit the area affected by the fire, but the army would not allow them to enter the area. The activists' IDs were confiscated and then they were prevented from boarding the boat to the nature reserve.