Nicaraguan journalist Ángel Eduardo Gahona, the director of the local, independent television program El Meridiano, was fatally shot on April 21, 2018, while covering protests against pension reforms that left at least 45 people dead over five days, including police and demonstrators, according to news reports.
Gahona, 42, was reporting via Facebook Live on a damaged ATM outside the mayor’s office in the eastern port city of Bluefields when he was shot and killed, according to those reports. A video of the protests shared by the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa shows Gahona approaching the ATM and describing the damage to the glass doors before being shot and collapsing to the ground with blood on his face.
Ileana Lacayo Ortíz, a journalist and activist in Bluefields who helped organize the march and who was near Gahona when he was shot, told CPJ it was difficult to tell who had fired at him, but that she believed it was the police. "I didn’t see any of the youth with a gun," Lacayo told CPJ. "It had to come from the police or riot police."
Gahona’s wife, Migueliuth Sandoval, who worked with him as a reporter for El Meridiano and was watching her husband’s live broadcast when he was shot, told CPJ that Gahona left home around 5 p.m. on April 21 to cover protests that continued after the conclusion of an anti-government march organized by local activists.
Sandoval said she and her husband decided that he should broadcast the police and protester confrontations via Facebook Live because local television coverage was being censored. Nicaraguan authorities had ordered cable providers to cut the signals of at least five independent television channels, and multiple journalists had been injured covering the protests, as CPJ reported at the time.
El Meridiano, which closed following Gahona’s death, covered news from the region and aired every weekday from 6 to 7 p.m. on a local television station and via social media, Suyen Sánchez, a radio reporter with the Radio Unica station in Bluefields who often worked with Gahona, told CPJ. She said that the program had run for more than a decade and was one of the most popular and trusted news programs in the city.
Sánchez and Sandoval said separately that they had never heard Gahona mention any threats against him in their years of working together, but that local journalists were concerned about potential violence amid the escalating protests.
On May 7, 2018, Nicaraguan authorities arrested two suspects in the killing and charged them with murder, attempted murder, and other crimes, according to a press release from the public prosecutor’s office.
Independent newspaper La Prensa reported that its journalists and those of news website 100% Noticias were prevented from entering the May 7 hearing where the suspects were accused, but that most government media outlets were allowed to cover it.
Local civil society organizations and Gahona’s family members, including Sandoval, have publicly questioned the speed of the arrests and the suspects’ transfer to Managua, saying authorities were trying to avoid carrying out a full investigation and accusing the real perpetrators, according to news reports.
In an interview with the radio station La Costeñísima on May 7, Gahona’s brother Juan Gahona said the family did not believe the two accused men were involved in the journalist’s killing and that they were continuing to “look for the truth.”
On August 27, 2018, a Managua judge found local teenagers Brandon Lovo and Glen Slate guilty in the shooting death of Gahona in a trial that Sandoval, defense lawyers, and human rights groups characterized as flawed, according to news reports. In his ruling, Sixth District Criminal Court judge Ernesto Rodríguez found that the teenagers, who took part in the April 21 protests, were guilty of firing a homemade weapon that allegedly killed Gahona, according to those reports.
At the trial, defense attorney Maynor Curtis said that no fingerprints were found on the weapon allegedly used in the crime and that there were no traces of gunpowder found on the defendants, according to news reports. Three days later, Lovo and Slate were sentenced to 23 years and six months and 12 years and six months in prison, respectively, according to those reports.
In a telephone interview from Miami, Florida, Sandoval claimed that the two men were scapegoats. Defense lawyers and human rights groups raised a number of complaints about the trial, including the fact that it was held in Managua rather than in Bluefields, and that relatives, human rights groups, and the independent media were barred from the courtroom while pro-government news outlets were allowed to cover the proceedings, according to news reports. An international team of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was also denied access to the courtroom, according to those reports.
On the morning of June 11, 2019, Lovo and Slate were released from La Modelo prison after more than a year behind bars, according to news reports. Along with hundreds of other prisoners, the men were freed under a controversial amnesty law passed on June 8 by the National Assembly and backed by President Daniel Ortega’s government, according to those reports.
The law freed political prisoners but also protected those who committed violent acts against protesters, according to news reports.