Press freedom in Nicaragua has taken a turn for worse in past weeks as long-time president Daniel Ortega and his government have continued their authoritarian crackdown on independent media, dissident voices and political opponents.

On August 13 the offices of La Prensa, Nicaragua’s oldest and most prominent independent newspaper, in the country’s capital were raided on the pretext of an investigation into “customs fraud and money laundering”. La Prensa, known for being critical of Ortega and his government, was the country’s last newspaper to have a print edition. One day before the raid the paper was forced by the authorities to suspend its print edition.

Juan Hollmann Chamorro, the paper’s general manager, was arrested during the raid and charged with money laundering. He has been denied contact with his family or attorneys.

The vice president of La Prensa, Christiana Chamorro Barrios, was a potential challenger for Ortega in the upcoming elections but has been detained by the government for money laundering charges since June. The charges were related to the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy, which Christiana Chamorro led until February 2021 when the foundation was forced to close its operations under Nicaragua’s new “foreign agents” law designed to monitor organizations receiving foreign funding.

More than 20 opposition candidates have been detained over the summer to prevent them from challenging Ortega in the November elections. All of them have been charged under the new “terrorism and treason” law, which has essentially banned public criticism of Ortega’s regime.

Journalist Carlos Chamorro, Christiana Chamorro’s brother, was charged on August 24 with money laundering and several related crimes. Carlos Chamorro is known for his critical reporting of the Ortega regime, and has gone into hiding in neighbouring Costa Rica.

“For over three years, the Nicaraguan government has overseen a campaign of brutal repression against independent media. Journalists have faced a wave threats, harassment, violence, and detention, with many forced into exile”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The raid on La Prensa follows this pattern, and is part of a renewed effort to stifle critical and oppositional voices ahead of the November general elections. IPI strongly condemns the harassment of La Prensa and its staff, and we call for an immediate end to Nicaragua’s crackdown on the media.”

Nicaraguan press has faced brutal oppression by the authorities since the start of a social and political crisis in the country in 2018. Last April IPI published an extensive article into the struggles independent media have faced under the Ortega regime. Journalists face a constant threat legal harassment, physical violence, arbitrary detention and surveillance. Many journalists have resorted to self-imposed exile and fled to Costa Rica or the United States.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak access to information has also been limited. Along with the foreign agents law, a new cybercrime law was implemented in October 2020. The spreading of so-called “fake news” is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment.