Managua, August 13, 2020 – Nicaraguan authorities should drop the criminal slander charges against journalist Kalúa Salazar, and ensure media outlets can report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On August 10, three employees of the mayor’s office in El Rama, in southeastern Nicaragua, filed a criminal slander suit against Salazar, the editor-in-chief of the radio and television outlet La Costeñísima, in response to an August 4 radio report on alleged corruption in the town, according to news reports and Salazar, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
The first hearing is scheduled for tomorrow at a court in the city of Bluefields, according to local daily La Prensa. If convicted, Salazar could face a fine up to the equivalent of three hundred days of her salary, according to the Nicaraguan Criminal Code.
“Public officials should not abuse criminal slander laws to avoid accountability and intimidate journalists. Such laws should not be on the books in the first place,” said CPJ Central and South Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Journalists have a right and responsibility to report on issues of public interest and ensure transparency without facing retaliation. Nicaraguan officials should drop the criminal charges against Kalúa Salazar without delay.”
CPJ emailed the municipality of El Rama for comment but did not receive any reply. CPJ was unable to find contact information for the municipal employees who filed the suit.
Salazar told CPJ that she believes the lawsuit aims to silence the work of La Costeñísima, one of the few independent media outlets on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. The municipality of El Rama is led by the ruling Sandinista party, and the central government exercises significant control in the area, according to reports.
“There is a situation of intimidation against the workers of La Costeñísima that has been increasing. They [the government] accuse me of promoting hate speech on the news,” Salazar told CPJ, saying that she regularly receives threatening messages while presenting live on La Costeñísima’s news show.
On the August 4 program, Salazar aired testimony from an anonymous individual who accused the three mayor’s office employees of embezzling public funds, according to La Prensa.
The Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua, a local press freedom group, issued a statement expressing concern that the lawsuit may be used to silence La Costeñisima’s reporting in the region.