Dissenting Voices Shutdown in Nicaragua

By: Mark Burroughs

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – In October and December of 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the seizing and occupation of property belonging to various government oppositional organizations. The recent events stem from anti-social security reform protests that began in April 2018. After three months of protests, Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, initiated “Operation for the Peace” also known as “Operation Clean Up” with the goal of stopping the protests.

One of the properties that belonged to Confidencial confiscated by the government, now a health facility. Photo Courtesy of the Havana Times.

In December, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) and the IACHR launched an investigation to examine the consequences of the crackdown. Since the 2018 protests, the government has arrested journalists, shutdown news organizations, and seized the assets of human rights organizations. 

The IACHR released the contents of the investigation earlier this year, and it details various incidents of human rights abuse by the Nicaraguan government. The report documents 328 deaths, approximately 100 people still incarcerated, 150 students expelled from university, and around 100,000 people that were forced to leave the country.

In 2020 Nicaragua’s National Assembly, which is mostly controlled by Ortega’s political party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front passed various laws intending to shut down dissenting speech. One of the bills passed is the Foreign Agents Regulation Law. The government claims it passed this bill to stop foreign influence in Nicaragua. One section of the law that Amnesty International highlights is article 14. This part of the bill prohibits Nicaraguans and foreign nationals from intervening in external and internal political issues. The bill also bans Nicaraguans from being a member of or financing any organization that is implanting political activities in Nicaragua.

The Ortega government also passed a bill called the “Special Cyber Crimes Law.” This law has been condemned by various human rights organizations, including the IACHR. This bill established a prison term of two to four years for people who “promote or distribute false or misleading information that causes alarm, terror, or unease in the public.” The government is responsible for determining the appropriate term. Sandinista politician, José Zepeda praises the bill saying, “it helps protect the integrity of the family.” Azucena Castillo, a politician from Nicaragua’s Liberal Constitutionalist Party, condemned the bill as an attack on free speech.

Another bill that the IACHR has condemned is the “Act to Defend the Rights of People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination.” The IACHR has specifically condemned article 1 of this bill. This bill will ban Nicaraguans from running for elected office if they have “promoted terrorist acts, incited foreign interference in internal affairs, organized and implemented acts of terrorism and destabilization with financing from foreign powers, or welcomed and applauded sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens.” 

One consequence of the various bills passed is the seizing of properties owned by Confidencial, a news organization in Nicaragua. The government began confiscating property owned by Confidencial and other news and political organizations in December 2018. Since that time, the police have occupied the buildings. Other organizations targeted by the government were the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Institute for Democracy and Development. This year, the government transferred ownership of the properties seized to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, also known as MINSA, without officially giving notice to Confidencial. On February 23, 2021, the government transferred the last of the buildings they occupied to MINSA.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Silence at any Cost: State Tactics to deepen Repression in Nicaragua – 22 Mar. 2021

Havana Times – Nicaragua: A Monument to Crimes against Press Freedom – 26 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Ortega’s Final Act of Confiscation against Confidencial – 23 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – IDB & World Bank Silent on Nicaragua Confiscations – 15 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Amnesty International: “Ortega Wants to Suffocate Dissent” – 17 Feb. 2021

IACHR – IACHR Condemns Destruction of Civilian Organizations’ Property in Nicaragua – 8 Feb. 2021


Author: Nadia Abed