Staff of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s leading independent newspaper, forced to flee abroad
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest escalation in Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega persecution of critical and independent media – in this case, the newspaper La Prensa, whose entire staff has been forced to flee the country.
“The repressive apparatus established by the Ortega government to silence journalists is as terrifying as it is intolerable,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the director of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “The independent press in Nicaragua is dying and voices critical of the authorities are inexorably disappearing. The news coverage provided by La Prensa, one of the last bastions of independent journalism, is vital for Nicaragua’s people. RSF declares its full support for the newspaper’s editorial staff and for all independent Nicaraguan media that are being subjected to President Ortega’s extraordinary and shocking authoritarian abuses.”
La Prensa’s last employees left Nicaragua clandestinely between 9 and 25 July, which means that, as a result of the increased harassment, the newspaper’s entire staff is now having to perform their work outside the country.
The police carried out a major operation in Managua, the capital, on the night of 6 July, in the form of searches of the homes of several of the newspaper’s employees – a journalist, a photographer, an administrative assistant and two drivers.
The two drivers, who are not being named to avoid making their situation any worse, were imprisoned the same day without any charge being brought against them or any grounds being given by the authorities. Alerted about the arrests of the drivers, the other employees whose homes had been searched went into hiding and managed to avoid imprisonment. But they were forced to flee the country clandestinely.
It was this latest episode in the long series of acts of harassment of La Prensa by the authorities that forced its remaining journalists and employees into exile.
On 13 August 2021, La Prensa’s headquarters in Managua were arbitrarily closed by the police, and its director-general, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, was imprisoned. Since then, no member of the newspaper’s staff has been able to return to the building and all of its equipment, including the rotary press needed to print the newspaper, has been confiscated by the police.
For 18 months beginning in 2019, the newspaper was subjected to an orchestrated shortage of newsprint and other raw material, but managed to keep bringing out a print edition until 13 August 2021, the date that it produced its last paper version.
Today, La Prensa continues to operate as a news website thanks to servers that are beyond the government’s reach and to an editorial team that is working outside Nicaragua and clandestinely. Holmann Chamorro is serving the nine-year prison sentence he was given after being convicted of laundering money, property and assets without any evidence being produced by the authorities. Since being jailed, he has been denied access to medical care and to his lawyer.
Nicaragua’s president since 2007, after a first term from 1979 to 1990, Ortega stops at nothing to control news and information and uses a combination of legal harassment and economic strangulation against independent media. It includes discriminatory allocation of state advertising, restrictions on the importation of journalistic supplies and equipment, abusive audits, arbitrary detention and absurd and unconstitutional laws. Two other media outlets, Confidencial and 100% Noticias, were subjected to the same treatment as La Prensa in 2018, when police raided and seized their premises and confiscated their equipment.
Ortega’s reelection in 2021 for a fourth consecutive term prompted a new exodus of journalists. According to Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN), an association to which many of the country’s independent journalists belong, at least 140 Nicaraguan journalists are now living in exile, most of them in Costa Rica, United States and Spain.
Exposed to arbitrary legal proceedings in Nicaragua, spied on by the police or directly targeted by the government, these outspoken journalists have had to cross Nicaragua’s borders clandestinely, sometimes putting their lives in danger, for the sake of their physical safety and in order to continue working as journalists in exile. Those who tried to leave Nicaragua legally had their passports cancelled and confiscated.