Criminalisation of activists and protesters continue forcing people to leave the country


The Nicaraguan government continues to harass and criminalise human rights defenders in the country. On 14th October 2018, two prominent social leaders, Haydeé Castillo and Lottie Cunningham, were detained and prevented from travelling to Washington DC.  Cunningham was reportedly released soon after and allowed to travel. Castillo on the other hand, was taken to El Chipote penitentiary where she spent 24 hours in detention. After her release, Castillo reported that she was taken to a cell with 10 other women and held in unsanitary conditions. She reported that the cell has water leaks and frogs and holes were covered with plastic bottles to prevent the entry of foxes. Castillo was informed after her release of the imposition of a travel ban. 

Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders IM-Defensoras) said:

"It is important to remember that since the beginning of the political and human rights crisis last April in Nicaragua, Haydeé Castillo has repeatedly been the target of different types of attacks. These include physical aggression, threats, accusations and smear campaigns in which the crimes she is now accused of were falsely attributed to her, and for which she was granted precautionary measures by the IACHR. All of this is undoubtedly part of a strategy planned to construct a false narrative with the aim of justifying the defender’s criminalisation, arrest and judicial prosecution."

On 18th October 2018, Amnesty International released its second report that documents several human rights violations committed between 30th May and 18th September 2018. The human rights organisation said that the government persists in its efforts to "criminalize opponents, referring to anyone who protested against the government as “terrorists” or “coup plotters” in an effort to justify its own violent actions".

During protests, the report stated the not only excessive, but "disproportionate and often indiscriminate lethal force [was] used, the state and pro-government armed groups". While in detention, the government "used torture as a method of punishment and to fabricate evidence and that police investigations were geared towards obtaining information about how the protests were organized and who was leading them". As a consequence of the criminalisation and persecution, 8,000 Nicaraguans requested asylum in Costa Rica and 15,000 have received an appointment to start the process. 

One of those cases is that of Alvaro Leiva, Director of Asociacion Nicaraguense Pro Derechos Humanos (Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights) who arrived in Costa Rica on 4th August 2018 after suffering multiple acts of intimidation such as threatening calls, surveillance of his office, and defamation campaigns. He was granted asylum in Costa Rica in October 2018. 

According to Amnesty International as of 18th August 2018, at least 300 people were reported to have been prosecuted for their involvement in the protests. Some of them are currently facing trial while others have been handed down heavy sentences. For example, on 3rd October 2018, a judge found nine people guilty for participating in a protest and putting up roadblocks in Managua. The Prosecutors Office requested from the the judge a 24 year sentence. 

As reported previously, Medardo Mairena, Coordinator of the National Council in Defense of Land, Lake and Sovereignty and Pedro Joaquín Mena Amador, were arrested at the airport in July 2018.Their hearing was supposed to take place in October, but it was once again postponed and now set for early November 2018.

Peaceful Assembly

The Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders IM-Defensoras) reported about the arbitrary arrests of more than 20 people who were protesting on 14th October 2018 to demand the release of the country's political prisoners. The Comision Permanente de Derechos Humanos (Permanent Commission on Human Rights - CPDH) has a record of 38 people arrested during this demonstration.


Nicaraguan journalists continue to face harassment by the national police. On 30th September 2018, journalist Roberto Mora reported an unjustified search of his car by the police. In addition, the police chief, Alejandro Ruiz Martinez, tried to snatch the cell phone from the journalist who was documenting a protest by the detainees’ relatives in front of the police delegation.

Foreign journalists are also the target of harassment and intimidation. On 1st October the disappearance of the Austrian-American journalist and anthropologist Carl David Goette-Luciak was reported. According to the father of Goette-Luciak, he was captured by the police and hours later arrived in El Salvador after being forced to leave the country. As reported by the Monitor, Goette-Luciak has been previously subjected to online harassment.

On 14th October 2018, several journalists were arrested and assaulted during the protest referred to in the Peaceful Assembly section above. Sergio Marin, a journalist from La Mesa Redonda, was assaulted by five people who stole his cell phone and his belongings while reporting on the harsh repression during the protest.

Yelba Lopez, a journalist of Radio Nicaragua, said:

"Repression against independent journalists is very harsh. Many have resigned and are leaving the country. Ortega wants to silence the independent press, and is currently working on a series of laws that will impose restrictions on imports and exports that can affect the supply of paper and equipment for media outlets.....there is a systematic campaign to close the remaining independent media outlets in Nicaragua." (Translated from Spanish)

Nicaragua is currently on the Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an urgent, immediate and developing threat to civic space. If you have information to share on the situation, please get in touch. Click here to find our contact details.