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 and Expression: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing public opinions on matters of special importance to the ruling party. On January 8, First Lieutenant Yadder Nicolas Montiel was arrested by the army and charged with failing to follow the military decorum code. Montiel had expressed his views on police repression against an anticanal protest in December 2014. He made the remark while on leave from his duties and was not wearing his uniform. A military court tried Montiel and sentenced him to three months and 15 days in prison.
Press and Media 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 allows for government broadcasts of emergency messages to force national networks either to broadcast his speeches or cease other programming 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 that 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. Official media, however, were allowed to cover these events.
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. Nevertheless, the government granted licenses in a discretionary manner. 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 that 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.
Generally 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 May 31, the Nicaraguan Telecommunications Office seized the broadcast equipment of Radio Voz de Mujer in the northern town of Jalapa, reportedly because the station was broadcasting on an unauthorized frequency. Voz de Mujer was run by an NGO that focuses on women’s issues and that many times criticized the government’s policies on such issues. The law does not provide for the seizure of equipment as a punitive measure against a radio station. Despite a request for an official review of the case, as of November the station had not resumed broadcasting.
Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, La Prensa, claimed that government officials and supporters regularly intimidated journalists and that 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 July 8, journalists Larry Sevilla and Moises Julian Castillo from Radio Corporacion, and the cameraman for VosTV, Luis Mora Duarte, were injured during a police disruption of a protest in front of the CSE. Jorge Torres, photographer for La Prensa, and Esteban Felix, photojournalist for the Associated Press, reported that members of the antiriot police destroyed their cameras. Between June 6 and June 9, a journalist working for Radio Dario in Leon was harassed and threatened after covering the firing of a well-known civil society leader from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN-Leon). There were no investigations into the allegations made by La Prensa reporter Elizabeth Romero that she was being followed, that information on her phone had been accessed, and that she was being harassed because of her journalistic coverage of the subject of the armed groups operating in the country.
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. Additionally, 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 /Slander Laws: 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.
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. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.
The International Telecommunication Union reported that 2 percent of citizens had fixed broadband subscriptions and 17.6 percent of individuals used the internet in 2014.
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.
On June 5, Gabriel Alvarez was dismissed as law professor at UNAN-Leon. Officials based his termination on the findings of a commission that claimed Alvarez arrived late, did not show up to teach classes, did not attend teachers meetings, and had harassed two students. Alvarez was a prominent member of two civil society organizations that were critical of the ruling party. Many observers and Alvarez himself believed that he was fired in reprisal for his opinions against the government.
On November 30, Universidad Americana (UAM), one of the most prestigious private universities in Nicaragua, fired two of its most prominent professors, Alejandro Aguilar and Alvaro Porta. Both professors alleged their criticism of President Daniel Ortega and government policies ultimately led to their termination. The decision to remove the two professors, who also served as dean of their respective departments, was made by the university’s board of directors; the military’s Pension Institute holds majority ownership of UAM.
According to the Nicaraguan Educational Forum and the Democratic Federation of Public Sector Workers (FEDETRASEP), from 2007 to 2014 approximately 3,170 teachers were fired and 110 unions were 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.