Nicaraguan probe raises concerns of political motive

October 17, 2008

Daniel Ortega
President of the Republic of Nicaragua
Managua, Nicaragua

Via facsimile: 505-228-7911

Dear Mr. President:

The Committee to Protect Journalists believes the criminal investigation of prominent journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro Barrios is politically motivated and intended to restrict critical news coverage in Nicaragua. The case undermines your government’s oft-stated commitment to press freedom.

Your government launched an investigation into more than a dozen nonprofit organizations in September, claiming that the groups were illegally funneling money from foreign governments to other civil society groups. The Center for Media Investigations, which promotes media research, democracy and investigative journalism, is among the organizations being investigated. The group is headed by Chamorro, director and host of the television show “Esta Semana” (This Week), host of the radio program “Onda Local,” and editor the newsweekly Confidencial. Chamorro is a tough critic of your administration.  

Since the investigation started last month, Chamorro has been subjected to extensive questioning by prosecutors at the attorney general’s office. On Saturday, police in Managua raided the center’s premises, seizing documents and computers, according to local press reports. The judge who ordered the raid said the civil society groups, including the one headed by Chamorro, were being investigated for “crimes against the state.” No charges have been filed against Chamorro or any of the groups.

Chamorro has accused your administration of political persecution and has said the investigation is an official attempt to suppress criticism. The journalist said that your government is trying to inspire fear among critics and is using state media to launch a campaign to discredit him. The journalist has conducted several investigations into official corruption in your administration.

Carlos Chamorro is the son of Violeta Chamorro, the former president, and Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, editor of the Managua-based daily La Prensa and the victim of an assassination during the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. La Prensa had a contentious relationship with your administration during your first presidency between 1985 and 1990.

You have pledged your full commitment to press freedom and, in fact, the media have been able to criticize your government until now. But the evidence in this case indicates that government’s investigation is driven by Chamorro’s critical coverage of the government. Harassment of Chamorro undermines your stated commitment to press freedom and sets an alarming precedent. We urge you to end the persecution of Chamorro, to return all seized material, and to recommit your government to the principles of free expression and tolerance of dissent. Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.


Joel Simon
Executive Director