Nicaraguan journalist Miguel Mendoza Urbina is being held in pretrial detention for alleged conspiracy against the state. Police arrested Mendoza in June 2021, and he has not had access to a lawyer.
Mendoza has covered sports for a variety of Nicaraguan outlets for nearly 30 years, and regularly co-hosts the Doble Play radio sports program, according to reports. He also shares 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 has about 27,000 followers, and Facebook, where he has about 117,000 followers.
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, according to news reports and CPJ research.
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 references 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. As of October 2021, he was being held at El Chipote prison and had not been granted access to a lawyer, according to 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.
At an initial hearing, held in secret at El Chipote prison on August 31, 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 the PCIN representative.
According to the criminal code, violations of Article 410 can carry prison terms of up to 15 years, and violations of Article 412 can carry terms of up to 10 years.
Mendoza pleaded innocent, according to a report by Confidencial. No date has been set for the following hearing, the PCIN representative told CPJ.
During one of the three visits that Mendoza’s wife, Margin Pozo, was granted to see him, on September 2, 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.
Based on the information cited in the hearing, Nicaraguan officials appeared to be making a case that Mendoza’s tweets commenting on U.S. economic sanctions amounted to treason, the PCIN representative said.
Pozo told the news website Artículo 66 that Mendoza, who is diabetic, 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 are refusing to bring him the food and water that family members deliver to the prison every day.
CPJ emailed the Nicaraguan National Police and called the prosecutor’s office in September and October 2021, but did not receive any responses.