Radio Darío staff in their temporary studio. Arsonists set fire to the station's headquarters in April. (Shannon O'Reilly)
Radio Darío staff in their temporary studio. Arsonists set fire to the station's headquarters in April. (Shannon O'Reilly)

Nicaraguan police raid independent Radio Dario

Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, December 6, 2018–Nicaraguan authorities should stop harassing independent media outlets and allow them to report without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 3, anti-riot police stormed Radio Darío, an independent Nicaraguan radio station that has been critical of President Daniel Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian government, detained four of its reporters, and briefly forced the station off the air, according to news reports.

“Nicaragua grows more dangerous by the day for independent journalists, with newsroom raids, detention, invasive questioning, and equipment seizure,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Nicaraguan authorities should allow Radio Darío to broadcast safely and without obstruction.”

Aníbal Toruño, owner of Radio Darío in the western city of León, told CPJ that the city’s police chief, Fidel Domínguez, led the raid. Although Domínguez lacked a court order, Toruño said that his agents threatened to break down the door unless the station allowed them inside.

Police handcuffed and questioned four reporters for several hours and confiscated 10 mobile phones and two computers. Toruño, who has spent much of the last six months working from outside of the country due to the dangers he faces in Nicaragua, added that Domínguez accused him of being a terrorist and of plotting a coup against Ortega’s government and threatened to imprison journalists and their families if they continued to work for Radio Darío.

“Every day conditions get worse for the independent media in Nicaragua,” Toruño told CPJ in a telephone interview from the United States.

Toruño said the police occupied the station for about three hours that evening and forced the station off the air. He said that transmissions resumed the next day but that Radio Darío has yet to resume its full schedule of news programs.

The public relations department of the Nicaraguan National Police did not respond to an email from CPJ seeking comment. Staff that answered multiple phone calls to the León police station told CPJ that Domínguez was the only person authorized to comment on the incident and that he was unavailable at the time of the calls.

This week’s raid was the second major incident this year involving Radio Dario, a privately owned station and one of the few media outlets providing independent and often critical reporting on the Ortega government amid its violent, eight-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

On April 20, pro-government mobs set fire to Radio Dario, badly damaging the station. Studio personnel escaped, but a security guard was hospitalized with burns and two of the arsonists died in the fire, according to news reports. The attack forced Radio Dario to move to another building in León.

Numerous independent news outlets and journalists have been targeted in the crackdown. One reporter was shot dead in April while broadcasting via Facebook live. During a CPJ visit to Nicaragua in June, reporters said they had been shot at by snipers, beaten, or had their equipment stolen by police or pro-Ortega paramilitaries. In addition, authorities have deported several foreign correspondents, according to news reports.

Since April, more than 300 protesters have been killed. Human rights groups blame most of the killings on the police and pro-Ortega paramilitaries.