Journalist Miguel Mendoza is seen in Managua, Nicaragua, on August 15, 2018. He was recently arrested for alleged treason, and is being held in an undisclosed location. (AFP/Oscar Navarrete)

Nicaraguan police detain journalist Miguel Mendoza for alleged treason

New York, June 23, 2021 — Nicaraguan authorities should immediately release journalist Miguel Mendoza, drop the criminal investigation into him, and halt the escalating campaign of harassment against the independent press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At about 9 p.m. on June 21, officers with the Nicaraguan National Police detained Mendoza and raided his home in Managua, according to news reports and a press release published by the police that evening. The police press release accused Mendoza of a number of crimes that fall under Nicaragua’s broad definition of treason, but did not state how he allegedly broke those laws.

Mendoza’s family has been unable to locate him since his detention, according to a Nicaraguan journalist familiar with his situation, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app and requested not to be named due to security concerns.

Police also removed a computer and other equipment from Mendoza’s home during the raid, that journalist said.

Mendoza has covered sports for a variety of Nicaraguan outlets for nearly 30 years, and regularly co-hosts the Doble Play radio sports program, according to reports. In the last few years he has also shared commentary on politics and human rights issues and published criticism of the government of President Daniel Ortega on Twitter, where he has about 27,000 followers, and Facebook, where he has about 117,000 followers.

“Following weeks of newsroom raids and widespread interrogations of journalists, the detention of sports reporter and commentator Miguel Mendoza for alleged treason is the latest sign that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is determined to use every tool in his arsenal to censor critical voices,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick. “Nicaraguan authorities must immediately release Mendoza, drop the absurd investigation into him, and cease their relentless campaign to intimidate and threaten the press into silence or exile.”

The police press release stated that Mendoza is under investigation for a list of crimes, including “actions that undermine independence, sovereignty and self-determination,” “inciting foreign interference in internal affairs,” and “requesting, exalting, and applauding the imposition of sanctions against Nicaragua and its citizens.”

Those crimes are considered forms of treason under Nicaragua’s Law for the Defense of People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-determination for Peace, passed in December 2020. Under the country’s criminal code, such crimes are punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

In February, Nicaragua modified its criminal code to extend the time prosecutors can legally detain individuals under criminal investigation from 48 hours to up to 90 days with approval from a judge, according to news reports.

CPJ emailed the National Police for comment, but did not receive any reply.

Also on June 21, police searched the Managua home of Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the founder and director of digital outlet Confidencial, who was not home at the time, according to news reports. Chamorro announced on Twitter the following day that he had left the country to “safeguard his freedom.” In May, police raided Confidencial’s offices and detained a camera operator for several hours, as CPJ documented.

Since late May, authorities have also summoned at least 16 journalists to give witness testimony relating to a money laundering investigation into Chamorro’s sister, Cristiana Chamorro, a prospective candidate in the country’s November presidential elections and the former head of a free expression organization, as CPJ has documented.

Separately, on June 20, police arrested Miguel Mora, the founder and former director of broadcaster 100% Noticias, who stepped down from that position last year to run for president, also for alleged treason, according to news reports. Mora received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2019, along with his colleague Lucía Pineda.