Top journalist who fled Nicaragua says nation’s press threatened

Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro looks at President Daniel Ortega’s policemen standing guard inside a building he owns in Managua on December 15, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Top journalist who fled Nicaragua says nation’s press threatened

  • ‘They are trying to end the freedom of the press, freedom of expression’
  • Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled the country to self-imposed exile, including more than 50 journalists

MEXICO CITY: One of Nicaragua’s most prominent journalists says President Daniel Ortega is working to close any spaces of freedom in the Central American country.
Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who had the offices of his media outlets Confidencial and the television programs “Tonight” and “This Week” seized in December by Ortega’s police, said Monday night that he fled to Costa Rica after receiving information that a plan was afoot to jail him on phony charges.
“They are trying to end the freedom of the press, freedom of expression,” Chamorro said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And if not close, impose censorship and self-censorship. Everything is threatened.”
Chamorro announced his relocation Sunday along with the airing of a much-anticipated interview with former Nicaragua Supreme Court Justice Rafael Solis, who publicly resigned from the court and Ortega’s party earlier this month.
Chamorro said the information about the government’s imminent move against him created a dilemma: He could continue his resistance in Nicaragua knowing he would be dragged into a legal battle against false charges that he couldn’t defend against or he could leave the country and continue doing journalism at a safe distance.
In addition to the confiscation of his offices, the government’s closure of the news channel 100% Noticias later in December weighed on his decision.
“I have evaluated the two circumstances as a much more dangerous trend,” Chamorro said.
At least 325 people have been killed in the suppression of anti-government protests that began throughout Nicaragua last April. Hundreds of people have been jailed, many on terrorism charges that are bringing lengthy prison sentences in what Solis called “political” trials that should be annulled.
Ortega maintains the public demonstrations were part of a coup attempt orchestrated by conservative interests in Nicaragua and foreign powers.
Among those recently arrested and accused of inciting terrorism were journalists Miguel Mora and Lucia Pineda Ubau of 100% Noticias.
“Nicaragua’s independent press is threatened,” Chamorro said. “It is increasingly difficult to access sources. Sources, too, are being threatened. This isn’t only a threat against freedom of the press, but also a process that threatens freedom of expression.”
After the Sandinistas overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza, Chamorro ran their newspaper, La Barricada, for years. His mother, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, was with the Sandinistas when they took power in 1979, but she ran against Ortega for the presidency and won in 1990.
Most of Chamorro’s journalists continue working in Nicaragua and are being provided security, but they also face harassment and persecution, he said.
Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled the country to self-imposed exile, including more than 50 journalists, Chamorro said. In April, journalist Angel Gahona was killed while reporting live via Facebook on protests in the southeastern city of Bluefields.
Last Friday, the newspaper La Prensa ran a blank front page bearing only the question: “Have you imagined living without information?” The government has been holding up its supplies of newsprint and ink, forcing the paper to reduce its page count and take other steps to save resources.
Solis, in his interview with Chamorro, said he finally decided to resign publicly after thinking about it for months, saying he saw no indication that Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, were willing resume dialogue to end the crisis. He had spoken personally to Ortega and Murillo and presented them with several ideas that could lead to a peaceful resolution, but he was ignored, he said.
Members of Ortega’s government have called Solis a traitor since his resignation. He is also living in self-imposed exile in Costa Rica. He said there was tremendous fear within the government and more specifically the judiciary to speak out against Ortega and Murillo.
At one point, Chamorro asked Solis if others in the government shared his view that there was never a coup attempt. “It is not a topic that we ever discussed in these nine months,” he said.


Journalist murder marks upsurge in N. Ireland unrest

Journalist Lyra McKee poses for a portrait outside the Sunflower Pub on Union Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland May 19, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 min 58 sec ago
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Journalist murder marks upsurge in N. Ireland unrest

  • McKee, 29, was shot in the head late Thursday by, police believe, dissident republicans linked to the New IRA paramilitary group as they clashed with police in Northern Ireland’s second city

DUBLIN: The killing of a journalist in Londonderry marks the latest upsurge of violence in Northern Ireland — where fears are growing that a fragile and hard-won peace is increasingly at risk.
Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead during a riot as dissident republicans clashed Thursday with police in the province’s second city — a historic flashpoint in the three decades of violence known as “The Troubles.”
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely ended the turbulence in Northern Ireland — mandating a withdrawal of British security forces and the disarming of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary group.
But dissident republicans — seeking Northern Ireland’s departure from the United Kingdom and integration into the Republic of Ireland through violent means — remain active.
Police believe the New IRA splinter group is behind McKee’s murder.

Among commentators there is a wide-held belief that the perpetrators are youngsters not old enough to remember “The Troubles,” and are being manipulated by a radical older element.
“There’s a dangerous radicalization of young people in Derry by those linked to and on the periphery of the New IRA,” wrote The Irish Times newspaper’s security correspondent Allison Morris.
Police Service of Northern Ireland detective superintendent Jason Murphy, who is leading the probe into McKee’s death, warned: “What we’re seeing is a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks.”
Two men aged 18 and 19 were arrested Thursday but later released without charges.
Police appealed again to the community for help in finding the killer.
“I know there will be some people who know what happened but are scared to come forward but if you have information, no matter how small, please contact detectives,” said Murphy, stressing that the information would be treated as “100 percent anonymous.”

McKee’s murder follows a car bomb in Londonderry in January and a spate of letter bombs sent to British targets in March — both claimed by the New IRA.
There is speculation that Brexit — which has raised the spectre of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland — is acting as an irritant to dissident republicans.
Proposed divorce deals with the EU could see Northern Ireland more closely aligned to the Republic of Ireland or bound tighter in union with mainland Britain — raising competing loyalist and republican visions of the future.
Kieran McConaghy, a lecturer in terrorism at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said it was “hard to say” whether Brexit has played a “major role” in recent attacks, as such events have been consistent since the cease-fire.
Since the British government began publishing security assessments in 2010, the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland has remained at “severe” — denoting that an attack is considered “highly likely.”
However, “Brexit hasn’t been good for stability in Northern Ireland,” McConaghy told CBC.
“It has made people more uncomfortable with the peace process in Northern Ireland, which is seen to be faltering at present.
“Politicians would do well to try and clarify some of the uncertainty... so that organizations like the New IRA and others don’t fill that political vacuum.”
There are particular fears that a no-deal hard Brexit would see checks erected along the 500-kilometer (310-mile) border, which would offer dissident militants a natural target.

Following McKee’s murder, police in the republican area of Londonderry where McKee was killed say they have experienced a “sea change” in previously-strained community attitudes toward officers.
The Free Derry Corner landmark wall has been repainted to reflect the local community’s revulsion.
Underneath the sign “You are now entering free Derry,” marking the start of a republican area, a message now reads: “Not in our name. R. I. P. Lyra.”
In the wake of her murder, Northern Ireland’s six main political parties — including rival unionists and republicans who have been unable to form a devolved government for more than two years — issued a rare joint statement.
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere,” it read.