The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government used administrative, judicial, and financial means to limit the exercise of these rights. Although the law provides that the right to information cannot be subjected to censorship, it also establishes retroactive liability, including criminal penalties for libel and slander.
Freedom of Speech: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing public opinions on matters of special importance to the ruling party. Salvador Montenegro claimed he lost his position as director of the Aquatic Resources Investigation Center--a research facility and part of the Nicaraguan Autonomous National University--because he expressed concerns that the construction of an interoceanic canal would affect Lake Nicaragua.
Press Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views. The government, however, sought to restrict media freedom through harassment, censorship, and use of national security justifications. Private individuals sympathetic to the government also harassed the media for criticizing the government. President Ortega occasionally used a law that allowed for government broadcasts of emergency messages to force national networks either to broadcast his speeches or to cease other programming temporarily during those times.
The government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent radio stations, allegedly for political reasons. Independent media owners continued to express concern past incidents of vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, and criminal defamation charges against outlets created a climate of self-censorship, which the government could exploit to limit press freedom. Independent news outlets reported that generally they were not permitted to enter official government events, were denied interviews by government officials, and received restricted or no access to public information.
Since 2008 the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications has been in review in the National Assembly. Until the final reforms to the law are approved or denied, media outlets are unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses. While the validity of existing broadcasting licenses was extended indefinitely, human rights groups and the media criticized the legal insecurity created by the lack of telecommunications legislation.
The Communications Research Center of Nicaragua (CINCO) reported control over television media by the FSLN and President Ortega continued throughout the year. National television increasingly was controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by President Ortega’s family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or controlled by entrepreneurs with close ties to the government.
In general media outlets owned by the presidential family limited programming to progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an unfair disadvantage. Independent media asserted the moratorium on granting new government broadcasting licenses, combined with the uncertainties of the National Assembly’s protracted telecommunications review, contributed to legal insecurity and shrinking opportunities for private investment. Independent media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private business firms to limit their advertising in the independent media.
On December 21, the NNP arrested Belgian photojournalist Michele Sennesael while she was taking photographs in El Tule, Río San Juan, one of the main locations of the protests against the government’s planned canal project, and expelled her from the country the following day. Police provided no official explanation for her arrest or deportation. Sennesael reported that police seized her camera, computers, phone, tripods, and other equipment and did not return it to her.
Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, La Prensa, claimed government officials and supporters regularly intimidated journalists and CSJ and CSE officials responded aggressively or refused to respond to questions about a variety of problems, especially those involving the constitution, rule of law, and corruption. During the year there were several reported cases of threats and violence against the press. On May 13, police officers harassed two journalists from La Prensa while they were covering a protest against the Customs Office in Managua. On July 9, Edgardo Trejos from Channel 2 narrowly avoided being run over by a vehicle assigned to the director of the Center for Medical Supplies (CIPS) while covering a protest against alleged corruption in the center. On July 16, a Noticias 12 reporting team composed of journalist Jeaneth Obando and cameraman Javier Castro were physically harassed by government supporters while covering a protest in front of the Supreme Electoral Council. One government supporter broke the television crew’s camera with a baseball bat. Although NNP officers were present, they did not intervene to stop the violence.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to penalize independent media outlets by excluding them from official media events and public announcements. Government advertising contracts worth millions of dollars were directed to official media outlets owned or controlled by the Ortega family and supporters. Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. In addition media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN. Slander and libel are both punishable under the law with fines structured around the minimum wage. The penalties for slander and libel range from 120 to 300 days’ salary.
The government continued to enforce the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which print media owners and international NGOs claimed restricted the public’s access to independent and opposition newspapers through the establishment of high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities despite protections in the constitution protecting the right to freedom from tariffs for media. Journalist organizations expressed concern regarding the lack of government support for the media sector and their organizations.
Libel Laws/National Security: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws or cite national security to suppress publications, independent media engaged in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws.
Nongovernmental Impact: In the period preceding regional elections in the RACS and RACN, starting in January, Radio Voz Evangelica de la Costa Atlantica received multiple threats of closure from government supporters, allegedly because of its critical stance towards the government.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, several NGOs claimed the government monitored their e-mail without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 2.17 percent of citizens had fixed broadband subscriptions and 15.5 percent of individuals used the internet in 2013.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were some government restrictions on academic freedom, and many academics and researchers reported pressure regarding self-censorship. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.
According to the Nicaraguan Educational Forum and the Democratic Federation of Public Sector Workers (FEDETRASEP), since 2007 approximately 3,170 teachers were fired and 110 unions eliminated for political reasons.
Human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported authorities required students in K-12 public schools to participate in progovernment rallies during school. Teacher organizations and NGOs, including FEDETRASEP, alleged continuing FSLN interference in the school system through the firing of non-FSLN teachers and their replacement with party loyalists, use of school facilities as FSLN campaign headquarters, favoritism shown to members of FSLN youth groups or children of FSLN members, politicized issuance of scholarships, and use of pro-FSLN education materials.