Serious threats to women human rights defenders in Nicaragua
According to information received by Observatorio para la Protección de los Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) four women human rights defenders - Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, Lottie Cunningham, Juana Bilbano and Francisca Ramírez - received a message with serious threats on 17th March 2017. As reported previously on the Monitor, Ramírez and Cunningham have been repeatedly intimidated by the authorities and have received death threats since early 2017. The four activists are involved in several human rights-related causes, including preventing torture, protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and afro-descendant communities, and environmental protection issues, such as mobilising communities against the inter-oceanic canal project that would devastate Lake Nicaragua and force people to relocate their homes.
In an incident on 23rd April, Mayor Lopez, Ramírez’s son, was ambushed while riding his motorcycle in San Isidro, Nicaragua. Ramírez believes that the attack was connected to her work opposing the construction of the inter-oceanic canal. And this was not the first time members of her family had been threatened.
Later in April, Nuñez became the victim of another defamation campaign in which she was included in an article - “Gallery of Traitors". This represents a serious threat to Nuñez, as the article included personal information, such as the description and license plate of her car, phone numbers, and addresses and names of her son and daughter.
As reported before on the Monitor, citizens have mobilised in opposition to the construction of a canal in Nicaragua that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The protests have continued, with a major one taking place on 22nd April 2017 that was obstructed by the police who blocked major roads to prevent demonstrators from reaching their destination. The police declared that the protesters were not authorised to hold the demonstration.
The Nicaraguan civil society organisation - Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos - denounced the police actions to prevent the protest in letter to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), declaring:
"The obstruction of this march and the previous initiatives to protest against the construction of the canal shows the deterioration in the right to freedom of expression, demonstration, and freedom to move freely". (Translated from Spanish)
En Nicaragua la libertad de movilizacion para los campesinos y defensores de la tierra no existe, el gobierno reprime hace uso de la fuerzas pic.twitter.com/b0qSKPpoiH— Cenidh (@cenidh) April 22, 2017
Comision Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Commission on Human Rights) reported that community radio station, Onda Local, was removed from the air in early April. It is believed that the radio station has been censored to limit broadcasting prior to November 2017 local elections.
In addition, the IACHR 2016 annual report by the Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression identified the following as major issues impacting freedom of expression in Nicaragua:
- discretionary use of official advertisement,
- lack of pluralism in the media,
- lack of access to public information,
- and restrictions on information available during elections.