Guatemala City, August 16, 2021 – Nicaraguan authorities must stop harassing the La Prensa newspaper, allow its staff to enter their offices and report freely, and unconditionally release publisher Juan Lorenzo Holmann, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At about 11 a.m. on August 13, riot police officers raided the independent newspaper’s office in Managua, the capital, according to news reports and La Prensa’s digital editor-in-chief, Dora Luz Romero, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
Employees were forced to leave the office during the raid and have not been allowed to reenter the building as of today, according to those sources.
At about 3 a.m. on August 14, police detained La Prensa publisher Juan Lorenzo Holmann after authorities summoned him to the offices of the El Chipote detention center “just to sign some papers,” according to a report by independent news website Confidencial and a police statement, which said Holmann is under investigation for alleged customs fraud and money laundering.
“The raid on Nicaragua’s lone remaining print newspaper demonstrates once again the little regard that President Daniel Ortega has for allowing the free flow of information within the country,” said CPJ Latin America and Caribbean Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Authorities must immediately release Juan Lorenzo Holmann, stop interfering with La Prensa’s work, and allow journalists to report freely without fear of retaliation.”
Romero told CPJ that the raid occurred one day after La Prensa‘s board of directors announced they were pausing the paper’s print edition because customs authorities had repeatedly withheld imported supplies, including newsprint.
Previously, in September 2019, La Prensa reported that customs authorities had been withholding imported newsprint and ink supplies, as CPJ documented at the time. Those restrictions were lifted in February 2020, allowing the newspaper to continue printing, according to news reports.
During the raid, officers refused to allow La Prensa employees to use their cellphones but allowed media workers from state-sponsored outlets, including Viva Nicaragua Canal 13 and Channel 4, to document the police operation, according to a report by La Prensa.
State-sponsored media outlets later published reports accusing La Prensa staff of lying about the paper shortage. During a televised address following the raid, President Daniel Ortega accused the newspaper of laundering money and also said, “The Prosecutor’s Office and the Police arrived there and found quantities of paper. When you lie in this way, when you slander the State, that is a crime.”
Romero told CPJ, “Those reels [of paper] that the pro-government media say are sufficient to print the newspaper are reels of glossy paper, that does not work to print a newspaper. Newsprint is different.”
CPJ wrote Canal 13 and Canal 4 via email but did not immediately receive a response.
CPJ also emailed the Nicaraguan Customs Authority and the public relations department of the police for comment but did not receive a response.