Nicaragua downgraded in global human rights report as civic freedoms deteriorate8 December, 2021
- Nicaragua downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’
- Concerns about attacks on activists, journalists and opposition candidates
- Arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances also led to downgrade
Nicaragua has been downgraded from ‘repressed’ to ‘closed’ in a new report by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks fundamental freedoms in 197 countries and territories. According to the report, People Power Under Attack 2021, the arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances of perceived government opponents, the criminalisation of civil society organisations and the attacks on media led to the downgrade.
‘Closed’ is the worst rating a country can receive and the only other country in the Americas with this rating is Cuba. In reality, a closed rating means an atmosphere of fear and violence prevails in Nicaragua, where people are routinely imprisoned and attacked for exercising their civic rights of association, free assembly and expression. China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria are also rated closed.
The government of President Daniel Ortega intensified its repression of civil society and members of the opposition in 2021, making it clear that there is absolutely no room for dissent. An unprecedented crackdown on opposition groups and human rights defenders began in late May when a wave of arrests on trumped-up charges swept the country.
In the runup to the November election, opposition candidates and government critics were rounded up and detained under charges such as “acting to undermine national integrity,” based on repressive laws designed to criminalise all criticism.
“Nicaragua has enacted a raft of repressive laws that have enabled the authorities to crack down on civil society, press and the opposition. Such laws paved the way for the illegitimate election that we witnessed in November, with seven opposition candidates remaining behind bars,” said Débora Leão, Americas Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS.
The CIVICUS Monitor is particularly concerned about arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances in Nicaragua. Since May, the government has detained 39 people perceived as government opponents, including presidential candidates, student leaders, defence lawyers and journalists. Some were forcibly disappeared for weeks or months before the government provided information about their whereabouts, and many have been subjected to abusive conditions while in detention.
Civil society organisations in Nicaragua are operating in an increasingly hostile environment. Between July and August 2021, the authorities ordered the closure of 45 non-governmental organisations, including women’s groups, humanitarian organisations and several medical associations.
Freedom of expression has also rapidly deteriorated in Nicaragua and around 26 journalists have been forced to flee the country in recent months. Widespread surveillance and self-censorship have become commonplace. Reporters have been personally targeted, with at least 16 summoned as witnesses in investigations against civil society groups and threatened with charges if they refused to speak without lawyers present. Authorities have also raided offices of news outlets La Prensa and Confidencial, and banned correspondents from major international newspapers.
“Censorship, surveillance and assaults on journalistic freedoms have become the order of the day in Nicaragua. Ortega’s government is violating the rights of media professionals as the authorities persistently infringe on the right to free speech. Political rights are also being trampled upon - reporting restrictions deprive the public of access to information and make sure that opposition voices are silenced,” said Leão.
Across the Americas, the state of civic freedoms is bleak. Country ratings have worsened across the region, with Haiti being downgraded following prolonged political turmoil and rising insecurity.
Over twenty organisations collaborate on the CIVICUS Monitor, providing evidence and research that help us target countries where civic freedoms are at risk. The Monitor has posted more than 550 civic space updates in the last year, analysed in People Power Under Attack 2021.
Civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories are categorised as either closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed or open, based on a methodology that combines several data sources on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Nicaragua is now rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor, joining 25 other countries with this rating. Visit Nicaragua’s homepage on the CIVICUS Monitor for more information and check back regularly for the latest updates.
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