The current reality of women journalists in Nicaragua has meant being forced into exile and separated from sons and daughters, being accosted outside homes and on social networks and even legally harassed. Women journalists also live with the constant fear of being victims of sexual violence as part of this harassment. Not only do they face threats for practicing their right to freedom of speech and freedom of press, but they face double threats because of their gender.

“Being a journalist woman or man in Nicaragua means being a target of attacks” the human right reports of several national and international organisations indicate. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) reports point to the violence faced by women journalists who are “exposed to additional and specific risks”. These include the publication of personal data, personal denigration based on gender, professional discredit, defamation and/or online hate speech as part of the acts of state repression.

The most recent third report from the Observatory of attacks on freedom of the press in Nicaragua, documented 66 complaints from 48 professional journalists and communicators, 24 of whom were women. While carrying out their work, they became victims of online violence, including in most cases: sexual harassment, rape threats and death threats.

“53 journalists have denounced before the observatory having suffered sexual aggressions such as personal blackmail, groping, threats of rape, and sexual harassment from the police and paramilitaries. This situation of defencelessness faced with state power results in high levels of stress for journalists. In continuing their journalism work and demonstrating a great commitment to continue informing the public, many of them still fear the retaliation that the regime might carry out against them”, states Abigail Hernández from the Executive Commission of the Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN).

VIOLENCE DISRUPTS PRIVATE LIFE

On 23rd of December 2018, journalist Leticia GaitĂĄn left Nicaragua, two days after the illegal raid on the facilities of the news channel 100% Noticias by Ortega’s Police, which also resulted in the imprisonment of its press, LucĂ­a Pineda. This incident put on high alert the independent journalists covering the human rights violations since the April 2018 protests.

Their fears were not unfounded. GaitĂĄn was a well-known journalist in Nicaragua, but during the crisis she was outstanding for her questioning of the public authority figures who participated in the first attempt at dialogue in 2018. Because of this she was held illegally in December by the police as part of a wave of state repression, and was subjected to prosecution, personal attacks, and threats of rape and death against her own person and her family.

“When I receive these messages I was so scared. My son had just turned two years old. It was terrible for me. They told me that they knew the route that my husband took to pick me up from work at the TV channel. As my husband was always with my boy as well, I was terrified. My fear wasn’t so much about what could happen to me, but mostly to my family: my boy was so vulnerable, along with my husband, my dad, my mum, my siblings”, said GaitĂĄn from exile in Costa Rica.

While she continues working in 100% Noticias, GaitĂĄn now avoids making comments or questioning Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s regime on social media. For safety reasons, she is also not thinking of returning to Nicaragua any time soon, especially as 2021 promises to be a ‘complicated’ year, given the presidencial elections that will take place in a climate of repression and impunity.

ISOLATION AND UNEMPLOYMENT AS A CONSEQUENCE

The case of journalist Jennifer Ortiz, director of the platform Nicaragua Investiga, who worked in an audiovisual production company before the crisis, testifies to a similar modus operandi by the state. She was not involved in covering politics until the events of April unfolded. As a personal initiative, she activated her networks to inform people about the political crisis; this resulted in rape threats and death threats.

In 2018 she left for exile, but in November 2019 she returned to Nicaragua. She admits that life has not been easy, and that after two years since the start of the crisis, her family life has not returned to its previous “normality”. Faced with the current reality in Nicaragua, Jennifer, her daughters and husband have had to take measures to avoid risking themselves physically or in social media, given the surveillance, harassment, threat and persecution that persists.

“We’ve been living in permanent lockdown, starting well before the pandemic. We had already accepted it as a change in lifestyle. We leave the house as little as possible, ensure we take the least risks if we have to go to places with crowds of people, and we do all our work online. We have also adopted other security measures that keep us secluded in a kind of bubble where we only move in a small and trusted circle of people”, says OrtĂ­z.

Even when the threats decreased in 2020, the repercussions on the private, economic, social and working lives of women journalist are noticeable and still are a constant. Ileana Lacayo, a journalist from Bluefields , has been persecuted by fanatics of Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo’s regime, and has also faced unemployment because of harassment and threats.

“The violence has also been economic when one is harassed or in exile, such as in my case. I left a stable job in an organisation and had to flee the country and since then I haven’t had employment or a regular income; the same has happened to other colleagues. Exile is another type of violence. There are many women journalists who have had to go into exile. It’s an extreme type of violence that, in order to feel safe, feel protected, you have to leave for exile in very unfavourable conditions for women and their children”, she claims.

Lacayo, who has returned, and has been continuously visible in the media, mentions that threats of rape and murder are constant on social media and in person by Ortega’s Police surveillance personel. A police car is usually parked outside her house in Bluefields every morning.

The Observatory of aggressions to freedom of press in Nicaragua’s report recognises that “online violence has effects in real life. Even if it is carried out through a digital platform, it has concrete effects on the victims, especially on women working in the media, due to the multi-dimensional components of this violence.

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

According to the report entitled Women journalists and freedom of expression. Discrimination and gender-based violence faced by women journalists in the exercise of their profession by the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, “as well the threats and violence they face, women journalists are exposed to additional and specific risks. They face a lack of protection and obstacles in accessing justice, both of which differ from their male colleagues”.

Lucia Pineda, chief of press in 100% Noticias, who was imprisoned, tried and criminalised by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s regime due to her journalism work throughout the 2018 crisis, thinks that “the fact that many women journalists, victims of repression are not in Nicaragua is a part of this repression. The threats are not only continuously directed towards women journalists, but it’s widespread across the population. The regime sees us all as its enemy and has prepared laws as a muzzle us, to try to make us unable to keep information flowing. Freedom of press is in a critical state”.

This observation is shared by journalist Elizabeth Romero, who has more than 30 years’ experience. She is officially retired but continues to practice journalism from her online platform www.obreradelatecla.com . “Nicaragua is a country where revealing true facts is a crime under the current laws. I would say that this crisis has affected not only women journalists, but all independent journalism in general. It is one of the sectors that is increasingly exposed to violations of their rights when working, especially in relation to freedom of expression and the press”.

These claims have been consistently verified by human rights organisations, including the Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca Más (‘Never Again’ Nicaraguan Human Rights Collective). The latter organisation has denounced a “strategy by the state to suppress public liberties” as a “form of systematic repression which has been maintained since April 2028, and which is sustained through siege, harassment and obstruction of journalists’ media coverage”.

“We are expressing our concern about the suppression of freedom of press in Nicaragua. Particularly this year, an election year, in which citizens have the right to choose freely, informed by a free press that is strong, independent, and critical in ensuring a transparent electoral processes. However, the political will to facilitate freedom of press is non-existant, instead the repression continues to intensify”, affirms Carlos Guadamuz, lawyer and defender of the Nunca Más collective speaking about human rights violations targeting journalists in Nicaragua.

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Periodista especializada en género y derechos humanos.
Es fundadora y directora de www.lalupa.press
Activista feminista en El blog de tu madre.