Police raid the office of the independent news outlet Confidencial in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 20, 2021. (Photo: Nayira Valenzuela)

Nicaraguan police raid Confidencial office, briefly detain camera operator Leonel Gutiérrez

Guatemala City, May 21, 2021 — Nicaraguan authorities must return confiscated equipment to Confidencial, allow its staff to enter their offices, and refrain from harassing independent media outlets, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At 9 a.m. yesterday, riot police officers surrounded the independent news website Confidencial’s office in Managua, and about 90 minutes later raided the office, according to news reports and Confidencial founder and director Carlos F. Chamorro, who described the raid in an interview on the outlet’s Facebook page. Police have continued to occupy the office and deny entry to its employees, according to those sources.

Officers removed boxes from the office and detained camera operator Leonel Gutiérrez, who was the only staff member present at the time of the raid, according to those sources, which did not specify what was in the boxes. Police transferred Gutiérrez to the Directorate of Judicial Assistance, a prison facility in Managua, and held him for seven hours before releasing him, according to Confidencial.

According to news reports, authorities have not provided any justification for the raid or Gutiérrez’s detention. The outlet has continued publishing following the raid, and Chamorro said in that interview, “We are going to keep informing.”

“Since Nicaraguan authorities have failed to provide any justification for yet another raid on Confidencial’s offices and the detention of its staff member Leonel Gutiérrez, it seems likely that their motive is simply to continue harassing and censoring the outlet,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Authorities must immediately return any materials confiscated from Confidencial and allow the outlet’s journalists to work freely.”

Early yesterday morning, the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry announced that it was opening a money laundering investigation into prospective presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, an activist and Carlos Chamorro’s sister, according to news reports.

Carlos Chamorro told 100% Noticias that Confidencial was not connected in any way to his sister’s foundation that is under investigation.

Police also attacked and detained journalists covering the raid on Confidencial, according to news reports, which said that officers tried to confiscate reporters’ phones and video equipment. Officers detained Agence France-Presse camera operator Luis Sequeira for about 20 minutes, according to a report by his employer.

Sequeira told newspaper La Prensa that the officers checked his phone and deleted videos he had recorded of the raid.

CPJ emailed the Nicaraguan Interior Ministry and the public relations department of the police for comment but did not immediately receive any replies.

Previously, in late 2018, police raided and occupied Confidencial’s previous newsroom, forcing Carlos Chamorro and several other journalists into exile, as CPJ documented at the time. Chamorro returned to Nicaragua on November 25, 2019, according to reports.

CPJ has documented a widespread crackdown on the Nicaraguan media since a wave of protests in 2018, including newsroom raids, criminal defamation charges, and attacks and imprisonment of journalists.