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Nicaragua's Crackdown On Press

Aug 25, 2018
Originally published on August 25, 2018 11:16 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's go now to Nicaragua, where, for months, President Daniel Ortega has been cracking down on his opponents. The small independent press in the country has come under harsh attack. One reporter has been killed, and dozens more say they have been beaten and threatened. Many reporters have fled or quit, but as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, a determined group of journalists remains.

9SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORNS HONKING)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: At a busy traffic circle in Managua, a large crowd of anti-government protesters begin marching at a recent rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in language spoken).

KAHN: Reporter Julio Cesar Lopez Chavarria is deep in the crowd. He pulls out his phone and starts recording live to his website, Onda Local.

JULIO CESAR LOPEZ CHAVARRIA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Lopez talks about masked, armed supporters of Ortega and their attacks on citizens, including the press. Lopez, who is 33, knows all too well about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Last April, as he was live at another March, a group of Ortega supporters arrived throwing rocks. On the shaky live shots, you hear glass breaking around him and see a man fast approaching with a tube in his hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS SHATTERING)

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The transmission ends abruptly. Lopez says he doesn't remember much after being struck in the head. He woke up the next day in a local hospital.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I don't know any journalist here that isn't afraid of being attacked," says Lopez.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The government wants to silence us, but they haven't been able to," he says. International press organizations have also criticized Ortega's press attacks, which include torching a radio station, stealing equipment and cutting the transmission of nongovernmental TV channels. Gustavo Mohme is the president of the Inter American Press Association.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUSTAVO MOHME: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Mohme called on Ortega to stop the hostilities, stop the attacks and stop harassing reporters during a recent fact-finding tour. Ortega has called his opponents violent terrorists that must be stopped to bring peace to the country. Most of Nicaragua's press is either controlled by Ortega's government, his family members or their allies. But as the crackdown continues, that near monopoly appears to be crumbling, especially among outlets once seen more sympathetic to the government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: In the control room at 100% Noticias, Nicaragua's only 24-hour cable news program, a popular afternoon talk show is ready to take a commercial break.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Uno, dos...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Vamos.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...Tres. Alli.

KAHN: Last April, government censors cut 100% (ph) from the airwaves for six days. Owner Miguel Mora Barberena says he'd been warned to, quote, "lower the intensity." Mora, who characterized his past coverage as neutral, refused.

MIGUEL MORA BARBERENA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "When they censored us, the people felt censored, too," he says. Mora says his ratings have since skyrocketed, and his coverage more critical than ever.

MORA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We've opted to be on the side of the people in this fight," he says. He adds, "when people are being killed, tortured and threatened, there's no way you can stay neutral anymore." Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Managua. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.