CPJ concerned about reports of intimidation

New York, August 27, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is concerned about reports of intimidation against Nicaraguan journalist Sergio León Corea, who has been writing about drug trafficking and police corruption in Bluefields for the Managua-based daily La Prensa.

León Corea, a correspondent in Bluefields on the Caribbean coast, told CPJ that early on the morning of August 17, an unidentified person or people broke into his house and tried to force open the door to his bedroom, where he slept with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. León Corea said he yelled at the burglars and fired a shot into the air, causing them to flee.

On August 20, La Prensa reported that Minister of the Interior Julio Vega and National Police Commissioner Edwin Cordero met with two La Prensa editors and León Corea to discuss the incident, and pledged to guarantee the safety of the reporter and his family. But León Corea told CPJ that police have not contacted him about security, and noted that officers didn’t come to his house to collect evidence until August 24.

During the last two months, León Corea has written several articles about the May 4 murder of four police agents in Bluefields. In an August 10 article, he quoted an unidentified police intelligence source who alleged that police officers, working in concert with a criminal gang, had been involved in the slayings.

Bluefields Police Chief Luis Barrantes told León Corea in an interview that the reporter was hiding the identity of one of the killers and that his refusal to name the source made him an accomplice to the crime.

León Corea also told CPJ that police have been following him. Just hours after the August 17 break-in, he said, his taxi was followed by two motorcyclists whom he knew to be police intelligence agents. He said he had been tailed several times in July and August.

On August 18, León Corea traveled to Managua to file a harassment complaint with the Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), a local human rights non-governmental organization. CPJ has obtained a copy of the organization’s initial response, which outlines the details of the complaint. León Corea has also filed a complaint, he said, with the Ministry of the Interior.

In May 2003, León Corea received several threats after reporting on drug traffickers and the alleged involvement of several police officers in drug trafficking in Bluefields.

“Nicaraguan authorities have the obligation to ensure that all journalists can work without fear,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We urge the Nicaraguan authorities to pursue a thorough investigation and to ensure León Corea’s safety.”