Nicaraguan journalist Miguel Mendoza Urbina is serving a nine-year prison sentence on charges of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and disseminating false news. Police arrested Mendoza in June 2021, and he was held in pretrial detention for almost eight months before his conviction.
Before his arrest, Mendoza covered sports for various Nicaraguan outlets for nearly 30 years and regularly co-hosted the Doble Play radio sports program. He also shared commentary on politics and human rights issues, as well as criticism of the government of President Daniel Ortega, on his personal accounts on Twitter, where he had about 27,000 followers, and Facebook, where he had about 117,000 followers at the time.
Mendoza was detained at about 9 p.m. on June 21, 2021, after police raided his home in Managua and seized equipment, including a computer, according to news reports and a press release published by the police that evening. His arrest came amid a widespread crackdown on independent media throughout the summer and leading up to national elections in November.
The police statement said that Mendoza was under investigation for 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.”
The press release referenced both the country’s criminal code and Nicaragua’s 2020 Law for the Defense of People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-determination for Peace, which classifies those actions as treason. The press release did not cite any evidence for the accusations against Mendoza.
At an initial hearing, held in secret at El Chipote prison on August 31, 2021, Mendoza was not allowed access to his lawyers, and the Nicaraguan attorney general’s office formally charged him with conspiracy to undermine national integrity, a crime under Articles 410 and 412 of the criminal code, according to a report by La Prensa, a press statement from the Nicaraguan prosecutor’s office, and a representative from the journalists’ union Periodistas y Comunicadores de Nicaragua (PCIN), who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
During one of three visits that Mendoza’s wife, Margin Pozo, was granted to see him in September 2021, Mendoza told her that the prosecutor’s office had cited 10 posts from his Twitter account and one Facebook post as evidence to support the conspiracy charges, according to the PCIN representative, who spoke with Pozo about the visit.
The posts included tweets in which Mendoza commented on U.S. sanctions imposed against individuals linked to the Ortega administration, including Ortega’s family members, as well as a retweet of a tweet by María Elvira Salazar, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In that tweet, Salazar called on the Biden administration to suspend Nicaragua from a free trade agreement if detained political figures were harmed.
In September 2021, Pozo told the news website Artículo 66 that Mendoza, who has diabetes, was “unrecognizable” and that she thought he had lost at least 20 pounds. At the time of the visit, Mendoza told his wife he was receiving medical care, but officials refused to bring him the food and water that family members delivered to the prison daily.
In a closed-door trial on February 8, 2022, Mendoza was convicted of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and disseminating false news, according to news reports. Following the conviction, Mendoza’s lawyer Maynor Curtis told the news website Confidencial that authorities’ evidence included at least 30 tweets and several Facebook posts by the journalist and said they planned to appeal the conviction.
On February 16, in a closed-door hearing in the Ninth Criminal District Court of Managua, a judge sentenced Mendoza to nine years in prison and a ban on holding political office during that time, according to news reports.
On September 1, Mendoza appeared before the Managua Appeals Court as part of a series of “informational audiences” that Nicaraguan officials held between August 30 and September 1 for some political prisoners, according to news reports. Officials only granted press access to official state-affiliated media outlets, which shared photos and videos of political prisoners, including Mendoza, according to those reports.
After Mendoza’s conviction in February 2022, his lawyer told news outlets that Mendoza had been kept in isolation and had been subject to regular interrogations and physical mistreatment in detention. In the photographs from his September 1 court appearance, the first time he has been seen publicly since his conviction, Mendoza appeared to have lost significant weight, according to Nicaragua Investiga.
Mendoza began a hunger strike on September 21, 2022, to pressure officials to allow his 8-year-old daughter to visit him, according to the Nicaraguan news website Artículo 66. Mendoza informed his wife on November 19, 2022, he cease his hunger strike after “an official promised him he would see his daughter”, the Nicaraguan news website Despacho 505 reported. Until this date he has not been able to see the child, the report stated. His weight loss poses an additional risk because Mendoza has diabetes, his family told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Nicaraguan National Police and the prosecutor’s office in September 2022 but did not receive any responses.