Guatemala City, October 14, 2022 — Nicaraguan authorities should immediately drop all criminal charges against staff members of the independent newspaper La Prensa, release two drivers held in custody, and cease harassing the outlet, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On September 29, the Nicaraguan prosecutor’s office charged four La Prensa staff members with “conspiracy to undermine national integrity,” according to a report by the outlet and the newspaper’s chief editor Eduardo Enríquez, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
The staffers facing charges are two drivers, who were arrested by Nicaraguan police after their homes were raided on July 6, as well as a journalist and an administrative worker who have not been arrested, Enríquez told CPJ. Police arrested the drivers shortly after a La Prensa team covered the expulsion from Nicaragua of a group of nuns affiliated with a charity that was closed by the government. Enríquez said the newspaper is choosing not to disclose the identities of the four staffers for security reasons.
“The Nicaraguan government wants to make it perilous to work at a newspaper in any capacity,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately drop the charges against La Prensa’s staff, release the drivers, and allow members of the media to work freely.”
If convicted, the staffers could face up to 15 years in jail, according to the Nicaraguan criminal code.
One of the La Prensa staffers, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told CPJ in a phone interview, “I feel like my neck is in the guillotine.”
Enríquez called the charges “absurd” and told CPJ that judicial officials have prohibited the drivers from hiring private defense lawyers and instead forced them to accept a public defense lawyer assigned by the government.
“This cannot be described as anything other than as an insane action; we are talking about people who do logistical work,” he said of the charges.
“Beyond the fact that there is no freedom of expression, there is no freedom to work,” he added.
According to The Associated Press, La Prensa announced on July 21 that the newspaper’s staff, including reporters, editors, and photographers, had gone into exile due to the persecution faced by the outlet.
CPJ called and emailed the Nicaraguan prosecutor’s office for comment but received no reply.
CPJ has documented the Nicaraguan government’s crackdown on independent media and actions against La Prensa and its staff, including the conviction of the newspaper’s publisher, Juan Lorenzo Holmann Chamorro, on money laundering charges in March, a police raid and occupation of its newsroom in 2021, and the seizure of the outlet’s ink and paper in 2019.