A local photographer makes a video of journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro's office the day after it was raided by the national police in Managua, Nicaragua. (REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas)
A local photographer makes a video of journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro's office the day after it was raided by the national police in Managua, Nicaragua. (REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas)

Nicaraguan police raid independent news organization, take equipment and documents

Bogotá, December 14, 2018–Nicaraguan police last night broke into one of the country’s few remaining independent news organizations and hauled away documents, computers, and TV cameras, according to news website Confidencial, which is one of the outlets affected, and other news reports.

The police raid targeted the Managua office of privately owned Confidencial and its sister television programs, “Esta Noche” and “Esta Semana.” Carlos Fernando Chamorro, one of Nicaragua’s most prominent independent journalists, is the founder and director of all three news outlets.

“This assault on Confidencial is a significant escalation of the ongoing campaign to harass reporters and curb investigation into the abuses by government forces and paramilitaries,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “The Nicaraguan government must return the seized materials, which could expose many victims who have helped document the repression, and halt its attacks on independent media.”

A video posted to the YouTube channel of 100% Noticias, a privately owned cable and internet news station in Managua, showed the office with computers missing, desk drawers open, and clothing and paper strewn all around.

“They ransacked our office. This was a brutal attack against press freedom and the private sector,” Chamorro tweeted today. He demanded that the police return all of the documents and equipment.

Wilfredo Miranda, a reporter for Confidencial, told CPJ in a telephone interview that the raid occurred around 11 p.m. yesterday when only two security guards were present. He said dozens of police officers arrived without a court order, confiscated the security guards’ cell phones, broke the locks to the office, and filled the back of three pickup trucks with journalism equipment and files.

The raid came amid a long-running government crackdown on independent media outlets that have been critical of President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian regime. Anti-government protests broke out in April and since then police and pro-Ortega paramilitaries have frequently targeted journalists, according to CPJ research. One reporter has been killed in the violence while others have been beaten or had their equipment stolen, according to CPJ research.

In video posted to Confidencial‘s YouTube channel today, Chamorro said the raid may have been linked to a widening campaign to silence non-governmental organizations that Ortega accuses of conspiring against him

This week Nicaragua’s Congress, which is controlled by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front party, rescinded the legal status of several non-governmental organizations, including the Center for the Investigation of Communications, or CINCO. Chamorro is a board member of CINCO but said in the video that the organization has no link to Confidencial or its sister TV programs, which are privately held companies.

In the video, Chamorro said that when police began last night’s raid they initially told security guards that they were responding to a possible assault on the CINCO office. When advised that CINCO was located in another part of the city, the police withdrew but returned 30 minutes later and began the raid, Chamorro said.

“I blame the supreme commander of the police, the dictator Daniel Ortega, for having ordered this attack against our office, our journalists and our audience,” Chamorro said in the video. “This was a deliberate assault and robbery. Ortega has turned the police into delinquents.”

Neither the National Police nor the office of Vice President Rosario Murillo, the official government press spokesperson, responded to calls and emails from CPJ.

Chamorro said that Confidencial would continue to publish and that there would be no interruption in the daily “Esta Noche” or the weekly “Esta Semana” TV programs.