International rejection against a bill considered threatening to journalists and human rights defenders in Nicaragua increased Friday with demands that President Daniel Ortega prevent it from being approved in parliament.
The bill, promoted by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), received qualifications as “aberrant,” “offensive” and an instrument of “repression” from diplomats, human rights organizations and journalists from different countries.
The legislation proposes that entities that receive funds from abroad must register as “foreign agents” with the Ministry of the Interior and will not be able to participate in internal affairs.
Amnesty International (AI) called the international community to urgently “activate all the means within its reach in order to prevent the approval of this law” that would impose “unacceptable” restrictions on freedom of association and would be an “instrument of repression” against people and entities that receive external cooperation.
The initiative, according to its opponents, would allow the Ortega government to control the entry, work and movement of organizations, media and journalists that it considers its adversaries.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Michael Kozak said on Twitter that the law is a “dangerous affront” to democracy.
“Instead of protecting sovereignty, the law seeks to criminalize independent media & pro-democracy groups. We stand with the Nicaraguan people as they resist these attacks on civil liberties,” Kozak added.
European Union deputies sent a public letter to Ortega in which they called on him to “reconsider” and not approve the bill, which they consider a violation of the Nicaraguan right to privacy, work, information and association.
A ‘Russian law’
Opposition deputy José Ramón Bauza described the bill as a “Russian” law when compared to the Foreign Agents law approved by Russia in 2012, against journalists and bloggers.
This law would be “the end of the opposition,” Bauza warned on Twitter.
Meanwhile, international journalists’ organizations mobilized in defense of Nicaraguan journalists.
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) organization “forcefully” denounced the project as designed to censor and intimidate independent media.
“If this text is voted in parliament, the government of Daniel Ortega will have a new tool of repression to silence the voices critical of his administration,” warned RSF.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) spoke in similar terms.
“Labeling journalists and media outlets as foreign agents is part of the Nicaraguan government’s systematic attempt to restrict and control the work of independent media,” said CPJ Coordinator for Central and South America, Natalie Southwick.
“We call on the Nicaraguan Congress to reject this law and allow the press to work freely without facing intimidation or surveillance,” CPJ said.
Threat to press freedom
The Center for Writers, Journalists and Storytellers (PEN) also denounced among its international networks the threat that looms over the independent press in Nicaragua.
Parliament has not set a date to discuss the project in plenary.
According to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), the initiative violates at least 10 articles on civil and political rights enshrined in the Nicaraguan Constitution and international treaties.
The term “foreign agent”, by association of ideas, confers on the person or entity a criminal connotation, espionage actions, violates the presumption of innocence and would establish in the country a “segregation between good and bad,” said the Cenidh.