The entire month of August has been a nightmare by this Managua-based independent newspaper’s 200 or so employees. Its presses had already been halted by a lack of newsprint – confiscated by President Daniel Ortega’s customs department – before police raided its headquarters, denying entry to its employees and arresting Holmann.
It's a “tough blow,” said Eduardo Enríquez, a La Prensa journalist who is also RSF’s Nicaragua correspondent. “The company must reorganise in the short term and find a way to make its digital edition economically viable.
Before suspending distribution indefinitely, the newspaper announced the publication of its last print issue with a front-page headline on 12 August saying: “The dictatorship is holding on to our newsprint but it cannot hide the truth.”
The next day, the police raided La Prensa’s headquarters, turned off its servers, disconnected electricity and Internet access, and detained all of its journalists and other employees for several hours inside the building while banning them from using their mobile phones.
Holmann, who was present during the raid, was detained for nearly 15 hours that day. The next morning, police escorted him to the Judicial Assistance Directorate (DAJ) to “sign some papers” but he ended up being arrested and placed in detention.
The prosecutor’s office says he will be held for 90 days while La Prensa is investigated on suspicion of “customs fraud and money-laundering.” Like dozens of opposition politicians, he is being held in an unknown location and has not been allowed to see his family or lawyers.
“In the run-up to the presidential election in November 2021, Daniel Ortega is strengthening his censorship arsenal and is initiating abusive legal proceedings against all his opponents and against independent media in particular,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “We call on the Nicaraguan authorities to release Juan Lorenzo Holmann immediately and to end their systematic and outrageous obstruction of the provision of news and information by the staff of La Prensa.”
Under Ortega, 20 independent media have disappeared
Founded 95 years ago and nominated for the RSF Press Freedom Prize for Independence in 2020, La Prensa is Nicaragua’s only national daily. It provided extensive coverage of the anti-Ortega protests that erupted in 2018 and has never stinted in its criticism of the government. It was the victim of an orchestrated shortage of newsprint and other raw materials for 18 months in 2019 and 2020. More recently, it was subjected to abusive judicial proceedings in which it was forced to pay enormous fines.
According to the press union, at least 20 independent media outlets have disappeared under the Ortega government, in many cases as a result of the confiscation of equipment or forced closure. Most had to stop operating because of the political and economic crisis in Nicaragua since 2018, and the protests in which more than 300 government opponents died.
Nicaragua’s president since 2007 (after previously ruling from 1979 to 1990), Ortega was included in the latest list of press freedom predators that RSF published in July. He has stopped at nothing in order to control news and information and has created a system for choking independent media economically that includes discriminatory allocation of state advertising, restrictions on the importation of journalistic supplies and material, arbitrary tax audits, harassment and arbitrary detention.
Nicaragua fell four places in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 121st out of 180 countries.