Nicaragua - Political and judicial harassment of NGOS threatens freedom of expression and association



    MONTREAL, Oct. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders strongly
condemns a newly-launched interior ministry investigation into 17
non-governmental organisations for alleged "embezzlement" and
"money-laundering" and fears it could jeopardize the right to inform and the
right of association, two basic constitutional rights.
    The probe is focused above all on the Centre for Investigation and
Communication (CINCO), headed by journalist and video programme maker Carlos
Fernando Chamorro, and the Autonomous Women's Movement (MAM), headed by
journalist Sofia Montenegro, who have been the target of a smear campaign by
close allies of President Daniel Ortega.
    They have already been questioned by the prosecutor's office, which
threatened to jail them on 8 October if they do not respond to further
summonses for questioning.
    "The administrative and judicial harassment of CINCO and MAM is an
outrage," Reporters Without Borders said. "Aside from the fact that the courts
are being used to settle political scores, the very principle of this
investigation - which is mainly targeted at NGOs dedicated to communication,
human rights and women's rights - poses a threat to the role of civil society
as an arena for democratic debate.
    "These proceedings come in the wake of what some have called a 'black
campaign,' a campaign to smear the reputations of Montenegro and Chamorro, two
former members of the Sandinista movement, by means of degrading accusations
that are without foundation. Such polarisation and 'media war' methods - which
are being seen in other Latin American countries as well - pose a major threat
to the physical safety of those publicly singled out as enemies of the
nation."
    The press freedom organisation added: "President Ortega, who is the
guarantor of constitutional rights, must put an end to this campaign and to
its consequences in the administrative and judicial domains."
    Chamorro was previously the target of a campaign of personal attacks
after he accused the leadership of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation
Front (FSLN) of involvement in a case of extortion. No action was taken on his
allegations.
    "At the time, my photo was being shown every day on Canal 4, the
pro-government TV station, where I was branded as a gangster, a terrorist, a
drug trafficker or a killer of peasants," Chamorro told Reporters Without
Borders. "But the courts acknowledged at the time that I had not done anything
wrong. The same TV methods resumed in May and have continued until now, this
time with me being labeled as a CIA agent and agent of imperialism in allusion
to the fact that CINCO received 20,000 dollars from USAID this year, which is
barely 1 per cent of our budget."
    Last month, the First Lady, Rosario Murillo, publicly accused CINCO, MAM
and Oxfam-UK - which supervises a cooperation accord with CINCO and MAM - of
"hatching a plan to destabilise the government." It was immediately thereafter
that the interior ministry launched its probe into CINCO and MAM and 15 other
Nicaraguan NGOs.
    Chamorro became the first person to appear before a prosecutor as part of
the investigation on 2 October, when he was questioned for five hours.
Montenegro and three other women - Juanita Jiménez, Patricia Orozco and Ana
Maria Pizarro - were questioned on 7 and 8 October.
    These women were already the target of a prosecution that was brought
shortly after President Ortega's January 2007 inauguration against some 10
leading members of women's rights organisations who had been speaking out
publicly since the previous year against the repeal of a law allowing abortion
on medical grounds.
    The interior ministry website claims that the 17 NGOs lack legal status
because they are not formally registered as NGOs with the ministry.
Officially, the embezzlement and money-laundering suspicions stem from some 58
financial accords - in some cases worth more than 400,000 dollars - with other
NGOs that are registered. The registered NGOs have already been fined and
could now lose their legal status.
    The requests which Reporters Without Borders has addressed to the
authorities - including interior minister Isabel Morales Mazun - for an
explanation have so far not received a reply. The legal status of two
opposition parties, the left-wing Movement for Sandinista Renewal and the
right-wing Conservative Party, was rescinded in May of this year. "It was amid
this very great political and media tension that the 'black campaign'
resumed," Chamorro said. "Against me but also against other well-known people
such as Sofia Montenegro, because she is campaigning for the decriminalization
of abortion."
    Chamorro continued: "The president's wife, Rosario Murillo, said
especially derogatory things about Sofia Montenegro in the weekly El 19,
accusing her, for example of being a murderer because she is the sister of
National Guard officer who was a recognised torturer during the Anastasio
Somoza dictatorship. Yet Sofia Montenegro used to be an active member of the
FSLN!"
    Since those comments by the First Lady, Montenegro has been the target of
many threats and attempts to intimidate her.
    Chamorro added: "Aside from the proceedings initiated against us, the
government is planning a major overhaul of the international cooperation law
with the aim of limiting the approximately 4,500 NGOs to a basic assistance
role."




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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