The United States is deeply concerned about the escalating crackdown by the government of President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. The regime’s actions under the so-called “Foreign Agents Law” forced the recent closure of two bastions of free expression: the Nicaragua chapter of PEN International, a writers’ organization, and the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, a civil society group.
Foundation adviser Cristiana Chamorro called the new law “unconstitutional and monstrous.” In a virtual news conference, she said, “It is very difficult to continue operating under a law like this whose objective is to suffocate civil society, and independent and free voices that this regime cannot tolerate.”
The ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front passed the “Foreign Agents Law” in October and recently declared February 5 as the deadline to register. The law requires people and organizations receiving funds from outside Nicaragua to register as “foreign agents” with the Interior Ministry and provide an accounting of their income and expenditures to the government, or face fines, imprisonment, and confiscation of their property.
“These developments further suffocate Nicaraguan civil society and take the country further away from free and fair elections in November,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “Ortega is driving Nicaragua toward dictatorship. This will further isolate his regime from the global community.”
PEN International President Jennifer Clement warned against the legislation when it was first being considered. “The trials, persecution and attacks against journalists and media critical of the Nicaraguan government,” she said, “prove that the country’s authorities act systematically to restrict the right to freedom of expression.”
“Respect for rights must be a priority for the state,” said Ms. Clement. “We urge Nicaragua’s government to stop criminalizing independent voices.”
The United States is committed to supporting the Nicaraguan people and their demand for democracy. “We are focused on empowering civil society and improving respect for human rights,” said State Department spokesperson Price. “We urge President Ortega to change course now.”