Thu | Jul 18, 2019

IAPA celebrates release of journalists in Nicaragua

Published:Thursday | June 20, 2019 | 12:16 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Journalists Lucía Pineda (left) and Miguel Mora (centre) celebrate their release from prison, accompanied by Mora’s wife, Veronica Chavez, at their home in Managua, Nicaragua, on Tuesday, June 11. Mora’s and Pineda’s release comes amid a broader move to set free those people the opposition considers political prisoners under an agreement meant to ease the country’s political stand-off.

Strong and consistent lobbying by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), assisted by other international organisations, has met with some level of success, with the release of imprisoned journalists and political prisoners in the wake of the civil revolt that has paralysed the Central American country of Nicaragua.

An IAPA international delegation, headed by President María Elvira Domínguez, recently visited the country to advocate for the release of journalists imprisoned there, and to express the organisation’s solidarity in the face of serious violations of freedom of expression and of the press that Nicaraguans have been suffering.

News organisations in Nicaragua that have questioned the rule of President Daniel Ortega have been under continued attack this past year. From the start of the unrest, the government has tried to control coverage, pressuring media bosses to self-censor, while journalists have been killed, detained, beaten, arrested and robbed; radio stations raided by police; offices ransacked; and equipment confiscated.

The IAPA has expressed deep concern over deteriorating press freedom there, as Nicaraguan authorities continue to repress the press and violate its right to inform.

Christopher Barnes, first vice-president of IAPA, and chairman of the Media Association Jamaica Limited, who was a member of the delegation, said that meeting these journalists in person brought home the importance of IAPA’s mandate from its members.

“These were people like you and I who were detained and imprisoned for doing their job as journalists, editors and media owners; their lives were in danger and some paid the ultimate price of losing their lives for doing their work,” said Barnes, who is also chief operating officer of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group.

Barnes: Greater press freedom assurances needed

Inter American Press Association (IAPA) First Vice-President Christopher Barnes says while the organisation is pleased with the release of journalists in Nicaragua, there are still concerns that equipment seized from media houses have not been returned, and journalists in exile in neighbouring countries are unable to return home because they fear for their lives.

Barnes said IAPA is also concerned that a newly passed amnesty law, used by the Nicaraguan government for the release of the prisoners, provides for their rearrest should they violate the terms of their release.

“IAPA would have preferred to have seen greater assurances of press freedom from the government, but this has not yet happened,” he said.

With one of the objectives being to meet with the Nicaraguan government, Barnes said IAPA was not successful in gaining audience. However, the delegation met with journalists, civic and religious leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.

Arising from these discussions, Barnes said, was conveying the importance of the print media getting access to their production inputs held by customs and learning the extent of the problems with some other media companies, those which remain operational.

“IAPA sought support from these groups to lobby for the government’s release of same to re-establish these entities. The objective of the press is to work on behalf of citizens to inform on and bring transparency to the governance of our country,” Barnes said.

“It is the ability to freely challenge thoughts and ideologies, introduce new perspectives, and have broad dissemination of these thoughts and opinions which leads to a strong democracy. It is this unfettered plurality of thought which provides a necessary check and balance of political power for the benefit of all citizens,” he added.

Numerous violations

More than 490 violations of press freedom have been documented in the course of the crisis in Nicaragua.

At the height of the crisis, in April 2018, Nicaraguan reporter Ángel Gahona was shot and killed while covering the protests. Another nine journalists were wounded on the same date. Later, during the March of the Mothers, the facilities of the News Channel in Managua and Radio Darío in León were attacked.

The National Police raided the offices of the digital newspaper El Confidencial and the television programmes ‘Esta Noche’ and ‘Esta Semana’, all known for their critical investigative journalism, while two journalists from the independent channel 100% Noticias, Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora were arrested and accused of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, and incitement of hate crimes.

“IAPA is a world-recognised press freedom lobbyist organisation, and dialogue is the only direct measure that IAPA can take with the Nicaraguan government. Indirectly, IAPA’s lobby to the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, along with other press freedom lobbyists, has contributed significantly to the justification for sanctions currently in force and pending,” Barnes said.

“Where dialogue is unsuccessful, it is these economic sanctions which usually force a change for the better in these situations. This mission to Nicaragua was one of three in the last year, and IAPA will continue lobbying until it is satisfied that the situation is improved,” he concluded.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com