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A memorial for slain journalist Angel Eduardo Gahona in Managua, Nicaragua, on April 26, 2018. Two men were convicted in Gahona's killing on August 27, in a trial that was criticized as unfair. (Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas)

Nicaragua convicts two men in journalist's killing in trial criticized as unfair

August 29, 2018 6:27 PM ET

Bogotá, Colombia, August 29, 2018--A Nicaraguan court on August 27 found two men guilty in the shooting death of journalist Ángel Eduardo Gahona in a trial that the journalist's widow, defense lawyers, and human rights groups characterized as flawed. CPJ today called on authorities to conduct a transparent investigation and trial to ensure that Gahona's killers are brought to justice.

Gahona, the director of the independent television program "El Meridiano," was fatally shot on April 21 in the eastern town of Bluefields while providing live coverage of protests against government pension reforms.

In his ruling, Sixth District Criminal Court judge Ernesto Rodríguez in Managua found that Brandon Lovo and Glen Slate, residents of Bluefields who took part in the April 21 protests, were guilty of firing a homemade weapon that allegedly killed Gahona, according to news reports. At the trial, defense attorney Maynor Curtis said that no fingerprints were on the weapon allegedly used in the crime and that there were no traces of gunpowder found on the defendants, according to news reports.

In a telephone interview from Miami, Florida, where she is now living, Migueliut Sandoval, Gahona's widow, claimed that the two men were scapegoats. She pointed out that the trial was held in Managua, the stronghold of the Ortega government, rather than in Bluefields, and that relatives, human rights groups, and the independent media were barred from the courtroom while pro-government news outlets were allowed to cover the proceedings. "The prosecutors showed no evidence that these two men were guilty," Sandoval told CPJ. "It was the anti-riot police who did it." Police did not respond to CPJ's call and email seeking comment.

"The conviction of these two men after a trial closed to independent witnesses and full of irregularities does not bring justice to Ángel Eduardo Gahona," CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said from New York. "We call on the government of Daniel Ortega to quickly launch a transparent and thorough investigation into this killing."

Lead prosecutor Inés Miranda Mercado insisted that there was "no doubt whatsoever that the two accused men are guilty," according to news reports. Lovo and Slate could face 25 years in prison, though their defense attorneys as well as the Gahona family lawyer, Boanerges Fornos, plan to appeal, Sandoval told CPJ.

On Twitter, the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center said that Lovo and Slate were innocent, called the two men "political prisoners," and declared that the guilty verdict showed that the country's judicial system is manipulated by the Ortega government.

Since Gahona's death in April, the protests have morphed into nationwide demonstrations against President Daniel Ortega's authoritarian government. More than 300 people have been killed mainly by police and pro-government paramilitaries, according to human rights groups. Government security forces have frequently roughed up and shot at journalists, according to CPJ research.

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