Police raid Nicaragua paper that branded govt a 'dictatorship'

Managua, NicaraguaUpdated: Aug 14, 2021, 05:31 PM IST


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At a time when the government is accused of repressing opponents, La Prensa is the only independent national newspaper still in print

Nicaraguan police on Friday raided the premises of independent newspaper La Prensa, which had branded the government a "dictatorship" after being forced to suspend its print edition.

The publication announced the suspension on Thursday, blaming customs for refusing to release its paper imports.

La Prensa was the only national independent daily newspaper remaining in circulation at a time when the government is accused of repressing opponents.

Nicaragua is gearing up for a general election in November but since the beginning of June, authorities have detained 32 opposition figures, including seven with aspirations of challenging President Daniel Ortega, who is seeking a fourth successive term.

According to an official police statement, the newspaper's managers are being investigated for "customs fraud and money laundering."

Police took control of the premises at midday and said the newspaper's warehouses were in "custody."

During the raid, some of the paper's journalists said internet access and electricity were cut off, while officers prevented them from using their mobile telephones in the building.

Pro-government media published photos of La Prensa's warehouses on social media, claiming they had no reason to halt their print version.

"In the warehouses of La Prensa newspaper, there is plenty of paper available so the company can continue printing its newspaper," Canal 4 posted on social media.

However, La Prensa staff said that the amount of paper was not enough to print even one edition.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression criticized the raid and condemned the "constant official persecution of the press in Nicaragua."

On Twitter, they said, "direct or indirect pressure aimed at silencing the work of the press affects democratic debate and is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression."

The episode marks the second time the 95-year-old newspaper, a tough critic of the government, has suspended its print edition, having previously done so in 2019 when it similarly accused customs of refusing to release primary materials.

Since Ortega came to power in 2007, at least 20 independent media have disappeared due to confiscations of raw materials and forced closures, according to the Central American nation's business union.

Three years ago, the Nuevo Diario, one of the newspapers, most critical of Ortega, announced it had published its last edition because of a year-long government blockade of its newsprint imports.

Between 2018 and February 2020, customs retained 92 tons of press materials.

Most of the media that have disappeared did so after a violent crackdown in 2018, on anti-government protests that left at least 328 people dead and 2,000 injured, according to rights groups.

Ortega's government faces sanctions from the United States and the European Union, which accuse him of human rights violations and the repression of opposition figures.

For his part, Ortega accuses the opposition of trying to overthrow him with the support of the United States.