Since anti-government protests broke out in socialist Nicaragua in April, more than 300 people have been killed and thousands injured. The world is aware of the situation thanks in large part to the nation’s independent media outlets.
The free press has now become a major target of President Daniel Ortega, who seeks to prevent criticism from the media in order to push the narrative that the protesters are terrorists, journalists in Nicaragua say.
“Every independent journalist has received death threats,” said Gerall Chavez, a reporter with VosTV, the Nicaraguan cable TV channel.
One journalist has been killed during the unrest and more than 490 violations of press freedom have been documented, according to recent reports of journalists being beaten, arrested and robbed and radio stations raided by police.
“This government has banned protest, captured opposition leaders, and now the only thing preventing a totalitarian dictatorship is the independent media,” said Nicaraguan TV journalist Miguel Mora. “This is the stage where they try to silence us.”
Mora said he recently was pulled over by armed police while driving home from work.
“They ordered me take off my glasses and put a hood over my head,” says Mora, who is director of 100% Noticias news channel. “Then they took me by the neck and forced me into a pickup, where an officer told me: ‘You’re responsible for the death of police. If you keep f—ing around, we’re going to kill you and your whole family.’ ”
Mora said it was the sixth time he had been detained by police in a week’s time. The journalist also said he faces criminal charges of “inciting hate,” drones have filmed his house and armed men on motorcycles track his movements.
Two 100% Noticias journalists have fled the country. On Dec. 8, a cameraman leaving the channel’s headquarters was seized by gunmen in civilian clothes and thrown in jail.
Journalists at Canal 10 were initially barred from reporting on anti-government demonstrations.
“It was absurd: historic events were unfolding and we were ignoring them,” says Mauricio Madrigal, the station’s news editor. He and others threatened to resign, and the prohibition was dropped.
Twelve members of Madrigal’s team have since quit, fearing for the safety of their families.
Since its brutal tactics have enabled it to regain control of the streets, the Ortega government is said determined to impose control over the narrative.
“It’s an Orwellian strategy, to falsify the reality of the repression,” says Sofia Montenegro, a journalist and former Sandinista guerrilla who fought alongside Ortega in the 1970s.
Polls show that just one in five Nicaraguans believe the government’s line that the demonstrators are terrorists. Still, the Ortega-controlled courts are prosecuting protesters as if they were the violent extremists government propaganda claims.
“We challenge this fantasy reality every day,” Miguel Mora concluded. “The logical next step – which I fully expect them to take – is to send their paramilitaries to close us down altogether. That would leave only their version of events: a pure, uncontaminated discourse.”