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Ortega’s Latest Assault on Expression Condemned Internationally

(CONFIDENCIAL) The Inter-American Press Society (SIP) expressed regret at the indefinite suspension of the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. They called it “a new blow against free expression in Nicaragua”.

The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation suspended operations rather than register under the “Foreign Agents Law”. Photo: Carlos Herrera

Their reaction was echoed by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, and by Reporters without Borders. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights added their voice. All four warned of the “negative impact” this will have on the exercise of journalism and freedom of information in Nicaragua.

“We are in solidarity with the Foundation. The organization has demonstrated its commitment to freedom of expression and the press. For more than 20 years, it’s been an indispensable reference regarding what’s happening in Nicaragua.” Those were the words of SIP president Jorge Canahuati in a special statement. Carlos Jornet, who presides over the SIP Commission on the Press and Freedom of Information, also signed the statement.

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Pedro Vaca, IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, manifested his concerns on Twitter. He referred to the closure of the Violeta Barrios Foundation, and also that of PEN Nicaragua, an independent writers’ association. PEN was formerly presided over by well-known Nicaraguan writer and poet Gioconda Belli.

The decision of both agencies to suspend operations is a consequence of Nicaragua’s “Law to Regulate Foreign Agents”. This law entered into full validity at the end of January 2021. It obligates any organization receiving foreign funding, or with outside affiliations, to register as a “Foreign Agent” with the Interior Ministry.

Pedro Vaca posted his views on Twitter. “The Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates his disapproval of the Foreign Agents law. He finds it contrary to inter-American standards. He said the law is an abusive instrument for destroying the social fabric, including independent media and organizations of civil society.”

In conclusion, the rapporteur called on the international community “to increase their efforts to accompany Nicaraguan civil society.”

An “aberrant and liberty-killing law”

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The Committee for the Protection of Journalists also posted an alert. “The nefarious ‘Law to  Regulate Foreign Agents’ will have a negative impact on the exercise of journalism and freedom of information.” The indefinite suspension of the Foundation and of PEN, is “another manifestation of the damage,” they added.

Reporters without Borders expressed their solidarity with Nicaraguan journalism and issued their own warning statement. “This aberrant and liberty-killing law allows the Ortega government to silence voices that are critical of his administration. It also allows them to control and restrict the work of the media, reporters and organizations of civil society.”

The “Law to Regulate Foreign Agents” was approved on October 19, 2020. Its regulations, published at the end of January, establish fines of up to US $500,000 for organizations that incur “serious infringements”. The law’s stated objective is: “to control the financial operations and activities carried out by associations, and national or international organizations. This is in order to put an end to foreign interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua.”

The Foundation, like PEN Nicaragua, explained that they would not register as foreign agents in their own country. Instead, they made the decision to indefinitely suspend their labors. Other organizations, such as Ethics and Transparency, decided to do without foreign donations. The Permanent Human Rights Commission did try to register. However, when they presented themselves at the Interior Ministry’s registration window, they weren’t allowed to do so.

Cristiana Chamorro, founder and former president of the Violeta Barrios Foundation, made the announcement of their decision to suspend activities. She stated that Nicaragua is in “civic mourning”. Chamorro pointed out that the requirement to register as a “foreign agent” was tantamount to “renouncing our Nicaraguan citizenship.”

In a similar vein, writer Gioconda Belli explained the PEN decision an open letter to Nicaragua. She asserted that “none” of the PEN Directive Board “considers themselves a foreign agent. We’re Nicaraguans who have only desired the cultural development of our country. For those reasons, the Board I preside over and the members’ assembly have decided to indefinitely close the PEN center in Nicaragua.”

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