AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In Nicaragua, two prominent journalists who ran a popular cable news outlet are facing charges of terrorism. The government accuses them of stirring up anti-government anger. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, their case is the latest attack on the press in Nicaragua since a crackdown by President Daniel Ortega began nearly a year ago.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The news program on cable outlet 100 Percent Noticias has long been a daily staple for Nicaraguans.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IV PODER")
UNIDENTIFIED NEWSCASTER: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: That's until December 21. All of a sudden, the nightly news roundtable is abruptly interrupted. Seconds later, viewers hear news director Lucia Pineda's breathless pleas.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IV PODER")
LUCIA PINEDA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "This just in. The latest news. There are riot police here at the station trying to enter," she says. In the background, you can hear loud crashes. Then the cable outlet's signal is cut completely. Pineda, the station's owners, Miguel Mora and his wife, Veronica Chavez, were hauled off to prison. More than 550 people have been jailed since protests broke out last April against President Daniel Ortega and his wife, now the country's vice president. More than 300 people have been killed. Mora and Pineda remain in Nicaragua's infamous Chipote prison, charged with fomenting hate, spreading fake news and terrorism, charges that face a possible 20-year prison sentence. Chavez was released.
VERONICA CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "The charges against my husband are illogical. They have no legal basis. We are reporters. We show what is going on around us. If that's inciting hate then every reporter in the world is guilty of that," says Chavez. Ortega has shut down other media outlets and five nongovernmental groups. I spoke with Chavez in the office of the only human rights organization left operating in Nicaragua. On the street below were two unmarked vehicles. They followed Chavez here, as they do everywhere she goes. Attorney Julio Ariel Montenegro represents the journalists, as well as more than 75 other defendants facing similar anti-state charges.
JULIO ARIEL MONTENEGRO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Montenegro, who spent most of his legal career as a state prosecutor, says unfortunately, there is no longer an independent judicial system in Nicaragua. He says, instead, defendants face an orchestrated collaboration by prosecutors, police and judges. Natalie Southwick of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says aggression against Nicaragua's tiny independent media has intensified rapidly.
NATALIE SOUTHWICK: It's just a sign of how much conditions there have deteriorated and how much cause for concern. These reporters have for their safety.
KAHN: Fifty journalists have fled to Costa Rica. Nicaragua's most prominent journalist, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, announced this week he, too, had joined them. President Ortega and his wife have characterized independent media workers and civic leaders as coup plotters. They rejected a permit for a planned march today, accusing the coalition of business leaders who had made the requests of also participating in attempts to overthrow the government. Veronica Chavez says it may appear that Ortega has quashed freedom of expression in Nicaragua.
CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "But with our case, they overplayed their hand this time." She says both of the jailed journalists have vowed to stay strong. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Managua, Nicaragua. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.