CSOs denounce lack of public information on COVID-19, putting people at risk in Nicaragua

Over 100 civil society organisations in the Plataforma Nicaragüense de Redes de ONG (Nicaraguan Platform of NGO Networks) warned that the lack of coherent response from the government in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has left the country’s population vulnerable. The Platform also highlighted that Ortega’s administration has withheld information about the pandemic and the country’s situation, developing a strategy of exclusion, secrecy and intimidation of the media.

Nicaragua’s president Ortega has made headlines as one of a few heads of governments minimising the pandemic. Public health experts have expressed concern at the lack of social distancing measures and clear information on the virus’ transmission in the country.

Association

On 10th April 2020, former political prisoner Ruth Matute denounced that police officers broke into her home in the El Túnel county near Masaya and detained her husband, Danny García, who is also a former political prisoner. Matute said that during the raid the officers did not present a court order but told her they were looking for explosive materials. Officers reportedly caused various damage and seized belongings, including goods such as costume jewellery which constitute the family’s source of income. The couple’s young children also witnessed the situation. According to newspaper La Prensa, García was released on 13th April 2020.

On 6th April 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report on Nicaragua expressing concern at the continued repression of dissidence and the attacks on those who denounce and document the country’s crisis. According to IACHR, between February and August 2019 the Nicaraguan Government maintained an average of six arbitrary arrests per day, with 1047 people detained during that period. Most of the arrests were temporary and continued to take place during moments of dialogue and negotiation with opposition groups. The IACHR also noted the persistence of judicial persecution and criminalisation of activists, human rights defenders and social leaders.

In this context, the IACHR recommended that the Ortega regime repeal all decrees allowing the cancellation of civil society organisations’ legal personality without the guarantee of due process. The organisation also requested the State to implement the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR and provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court to prevent killings, threats and intimidation against human rights defenders and social leaders.

The IACHR’s report also underscored the persistence of restrictions on the exercise of social protest and on the repression of those who exercise this right. As reported by the Monitor, in March 2019 Nicaragua’s police issued a statement saying that they would not allow any activity that disrupts public order, threatens or violates the right to work, freedom of movement, the physical integrity of people and public and private property. In this regard, the IACHR reiterated that in a democracy, States must respect the right to peaceful assembly and on the assumption that such demonstrations do not constitute a threat to public order.

Expression

On 6th April 2020, IM-Defensoras launched an alert that attacks on women journalists in Nicaragua are intensifying. Women journalists who criticise the government have been subjected to smear campaigns, hate speech and threats of sexual violence because of their work. As disclosed by the regional network, all the journalists who have been victims of such tactics have chosen to remain anonymous due to serious security risks. IM-Defensoras nevertheless issued the warning in order to highlight the important violations of freedom of expression ongoing in the country and condemned these attacks.

According to the Annual Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, several cases of harassment, siege, intimidation and surveillance of journalists were documented in Nicaragua in 2019. In the report, the Special Rapporteur’s Office detailed attacks against journalists, independent media and opposition activists, through arbitrary detentions and various forms of censorship and internet blockades. The Nicaraguan government also continued to take action aimed at systematically restricting independent journalism, which kept many journalists in exile for several months. Some media outlets had equipment confiscated and the government maintained editorial control over the state media. Finally, the Office of the Rapporteur said it is concerned about the situation of impunity in the face of serious crimes committed against journalists and the media.