Guatemala City, June 1, 2021 — Nicaraguan authorities must refrain from opening criminal investigations into the work of journalist María Lilly Delgado and any other members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Since late May, authorities have summoned at least 16 journalists to give witness testimony relating to a money laundering investigation into Cristiana Chamorro, a prospective candidate in the country’s November presidential elections and the former head of a free expression organization, according to news reports.
One of those journalists, Delgado, a freelance correspondent for the U.S.-based television network Univision, received a summons on May 24, she told CPJ in a phone interview. She said that she responded to that summons with her lawyer the following day, but prosecutors said they would not question her in the presence of her lawyer, and then released her.
In a second meeting with prosecutors on May 28, Heidy Ramírez, a government prosecutor, “told me that my status had changed from being a witness to being investigated,” Delgado told CPJ. Since then, Nicaraguan officials have not notified Delgado of any formal criminal charges or provided any additional information about the alleged investigation, the journalist told CPJ yesterday.
“Arbitrarily summoning journalists to testify and linking them to a politically charged criminal proceeding that has absolutely no connection to their work is just another tactic to intimidate Nicaraguan journalists,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Nicaraguan authorities should stop using judicial interrogations to harass the press, and must refrain from launching criminal investigations into María Lilly Delgado or any other journalist for their work.”
According to those news reports, authorities have not filed criminal charges against any of the journalists.
On May 28, the Nicaraguan prosecutor’s office issued a statement saying Delgado refused to sign a statement and answer questions, but did not state whether she was under formal investigation.
Delgado told CPJ that the prosecutors “refused to allow my lawyer to be with me during the interrogation and then falsely accused me of being uncooperative.”
“I never said that I was not willing to answer questions and sign the documents, but their statements had various inaccuracies. I requested they revise them and they refused,” she added.
CPJ emailed the Nicaragua public prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any response.
On May 20, police raided and occupied the offices of Nicaraguan news website Confidencial, of which Charmorro’s brother is the director, and detained one staffer for seven hours, as CPJ documented at the time.