Nicaragua

Partly Free
45
100
A Obstacles to Access 11 25
B Limits on Content 17 35
C Violations of User Rights 17 40
Last Year's Score & Status
48 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom declined in Nicaragua amid a November 2021 electoral period characterized by a harsh clampdown on opposition figures, dissenting voices, and independent journalists. The government used recently passed legislation, like the 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law, to imprison dissidents for their critical online speech, including in relation to the election; such laws have led users to increasingly self-censor and to opt for anonymity when politically expressing themselves online. Social media accounts belonging to independent outlets continued to fall victim to hacking, and reports released during the coverage period provided further evidence of a state-run online influence campaign spanning multiple platforms.

The election of Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), as president in 2006 began a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms, and unchecked corruption. In 2018, state forces and informally affiliated armed groups responded to a mass antigovernment protest movement with violence and repression. The rule of law collapsed as the authorities moved to put down the movement, with rights monitors reporting the deaths of at least 325 people, extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and torture. Arbitrary arrests and detentions have since continued, perceived government opponents report surveillance and monitoring, and talks between the regime and the opposition have foundered.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • While a de facto duopoly in the provision of fixed-line and mobile service remains, reporting from the coverage period showed that close associates of President Ortega, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, hold shares in two of the country’s less prominent ISPs, which some believe could allow the Ortega-Murillo family to exert a slight level of market control (see A4).
  • Self-censorship increased during the coverage period, exacerbated by the heightened use of recently passed legislation criminalizing online speech and a climate of repression around the 2021 general election. Rather than being completely silenced, however, critical voices continued to engage in political speech by using anonymous and encrypted messaging channels (see B4 and B8).
  • Previously documented government influence operations were further confirmed during the coverage period when Meta reported removing a troll farm operated by the government and ruling party that spanned at least six platforms (see B2 and B5).
  • The first prison sentences issued under the 2020 Cybercrimes Law were doled out during the coverage period, including several 11- and 12-year sentences for users’ political speech on social media. Several individuals were detained on the eve of the election or charged because of their election-related commentary (see C3).
  • Social media accounts belonging to at least four independent online outlets were hacked in January 2022 (see C8).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 3.003 6.006

Despite sustained progress in recent years, less than half of Nicaragua’s population has access to the internet. Unofficial statistics from January 2022 show that 2.98 million people in the country had internet access, for a penetration rate of 44.2 percent. Mobile phone subscriptions stood at 8.21 million, meaning many people had more than one subscription.1

According to a 2017 report by the Nicaraguan Chamber of Internet and Telecommunications (CANITEL), there has been consistent investment in the expansion of networks and services since 2004, contributing to the installation of more than 13,000 kilometers of fiber-optic and microwave links nationwide.2 The Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Postal Services (TELCOR) stated that growth in access accelerated over the last two decades, from 15,559 connections in 2000 to 207,275 in 2013.3

According to Speedtest Global Index, Nicaragua ranked 98th out of 140 countries surveyed for mobile broadband speeds and 105th out of 182 countries surveyed for fixed-line broadband speeds in March 2022. Nicaragua’s median mobile data download and upload speeds were 27.94 megabits per second (Mbps) and 13.02 Mbps, respectively. Median fixed broadband download and upload speeds stood at 42.17 Mbps and 15.52 Mbps, respectively.4

Frequent power outages, caused by poor infrastructure and natural disasters, also pose a threat to connectivity. A failure in the Central American electrical system in July 2021 caused a total blackout in Nicaragua that lasted five hours,5 for instance, with similar blackouts reported in June,6 August,7 and November of that year.8 In November 2020, Nicaragua was devastated by Hurricane Iota; TELCOR disrupted communications systems that it managed, including internet services, due to breakdowns in the power supply, destruction of fiber-optic lines, and wind damage to transmission towers.9

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 0.000 3.003

Access to the internet is expensive compared to the minimum wage, and there are large geographical disparities.

As of January 2022, Nicaragua’s minimum wage ranged from 4,724 córdobas ($132) to 10,572 córdobas ($296) a month, depending on the sector.1 Financial pressure has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic; official statistics showed a slight growth in unemployment during 2021, to about 4.8 percent, while 46.3 percent of the population was underemployed or informally employed, earning between 25 and 50 percent of minimum wage.2

Internet service in Nicaragua, while still financially inaccessible for many, became more affordable during the coverage period. The average monthly cost of fixed-line broadband service fell from among the highest in the region to among the lowest. Analysis from Cable.co.uk found that monthly fixed-line broadband service in the country cost an average of $36.99 in 2022, constituting between 13 and 28 percent of the average monthly salary of someone making minimum wage.3 The least expensive mobile data plans in Central America can also be found in Nicaragua, where 1 gigabyte (GB) of data costs $0.70 on average.4

The cost of devices is also high. According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, a basic smartphone cost nearly 34 percent of the average Nicaraguan monthly income in 2020.5

Connectivity in rural areas is low, partly because it is not profitable for service providers to develop infrastructure there; between 71 and 89 percent of the population living in these areas do not have internet access.6 Women in rural areas are even less connected, as women in general face a disparity in access to technologies such as mobile phones.7

Little information is available about Indigenous peoples’ internet access, though civil society organizations have created some initiatives to connect traditionally Indigenous communities.8

In 2015, the Ortega regime promoted a project aimed at establishing Wi-Fi access points in municipal parks throughout the country.9 The project was proposed by the National Electricity Transmission Company (Enatrel) and managed by each municipality.10

In November 2021, the government reported that 93 of the country’s 153 municipalities had broadband coverage, in part due to efforts launched under the Broadband Program—a plan to expand broadband coverage nationwide—first presented by the government in 2016.11

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 5.005 6.006

There have been a few instances in which the government restricted internet access, though none were reported during the coverage period. The most recent was in 2018, in the context of massive antigovernment protests.1 Internet disruptions occurred on a regional basis that year, including in the departments of Jinotega, Matagalpa, León, and Masaya, and lasted around a day. The outages coincided with attacks against civilians by security forces and allied armed groups. Mobile service was also disrupted,2 and the government blocked Wi-Fi signals in public parks where protesters had connected their devices to report on the demonstrations.3

In December 2020, the Special Cybercrimes Law came into effect (see C2).4 According to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), the law authorizes TELCOR and the Foreign Ministry to block websites, networks, applications, and other online and communication services.5

In terms of international connectivity, the country is linked to global internet traffic by the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS) submarine cable.6

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 in light of the de facto duopoly in the provision of fixed and mobile broadband service.

Nicaragua's General Telecommunications Law stipulates the rules and procedures to be followed in the telecommunications sector, classifying the services and describing the types of permits or concessions that must be obtained for operation. It also states that there is free competition, ostensibly allowing any interested company to take the steps to establish itself in the country. There are at least three mobile service providers,1 in addition to others that provide internet service for homes and businesses.2 However, the market is led in practice by two providers, Claro and Tigo: Claro, owned by the Mexican telecommunications giant América Móvil, dominates both the fixed and mobile broadband sectors, while Tigo, held by Luxembourg-based Millicom, has captured around 33 percent of the mobile market and 10 percent of the fixed-line market.3

Licenses or concessions to provide internet service may only be granted to Nicaraguan individuals or legal entities, and in the case of companies, at least 51 percent of shares must be held by Nicaraguan nationals. The provider is also required to sign an agreement with each customer that is fair to both parties.4

Recent reports indicate that the Ortega-Murillo family has close ties to a number of shareholders in Nicaragua’s telecommunications sector. A report published by El Confidencial in February 2022 found that shareholders in companies that partially comprise two ISPs—CooTel and Yota—have links to the presidential family. For example, Ortega-linked lawyer José María Enríquez Moncada holds 30 percent of shares in Inversiones Nicaragüenses de Telecomunicaciones, S. A., which operates the CooTel ISP alongside Chinese company Xinwei Telecom. Though some have expressed concern that this would allow the family to exert control over the market, their potential impact is limited by the relatively small market share held by the companies involved.5

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0.000 4.004

TELCOR is the main regulatory body for telecommunications providers.1 Legally, it is meant to operate as a decentralized entity with independent assets,2 but in reality, it fails to uphold principles of neutrality and independence. TELCOR is essentially a government institution, and it responds to government policies (see B5). The highest authority within the institute is appointed by the president, and according to a 2006 constitutional reform, all such appointments must be examined and approved by the National Assembly, though this has never occurred in practice.3 Transparency is also lacking; TELCOR’s website has not been updated since 2011.4

In May 2020, TELCOR amended a 2013 administrative agreement to require that telecommunications providers inform the body of their appointments for positions including information technology heads, financial managers, regulatory managers, and heads of security. Failure to do so can result in administrative or criminal sanctions.5

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 6.006 6.006

No evidence that the government or service providers block or filter content has been reported. Though the 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law allows TELCOR and the Foreign Ministry to block so-called dangerous websites, the government does not appear to have the capacity to implement and enforce such blocking.1

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

The Nicaraguan government and its allies have used copyright laws, including the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), to secure the removal of content produced by independent media outlets.1 Because only the progovernment media sector—much of which is controlled by Ortega’s family and others linked to the regime—has access to events and interviews with state officials, independent outlets depend on images and recordings from these sources, which then lodge copyright complaints.2 For example, in March 2020, two YouTube accounts of the independent news broadcaster 100% Noticias—whose license was revoked in 2018—were shuttered after a progovernment outlet lodged complaints over their use of photos and video footage.3

As part of the government’s broader online influence operation, state employees were found to have engaged in the coordinated mass reporting of content posted on Facebook by government critics in 2018 and 2019 in an apparent effort to get it removed (see B5). Meta found these efforts, which targeted media outlets, activists, and everyday users, to be largely unsuccessful.4

Police have also reportedly coerced government critics into deleting videos or photos that depict antigovernment protests from their devices.5

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 1.001 4.004

Nicaragua lacks independent bodies that ensure oversight of content restriction processes. Authorities do not act transparently when it comes to the removal of online content.1 Under the 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law, decisions to block websites are to be made by TELCOR and the Foreign Ministry, both of which are effectively dominated by the presidency.2

For content removals that rely on the DMCA, a specific procedural framework is established in the US law itself, which is often invoked by Nicaraguan entities targeting material like YouTube videos (see B2).3 Journalists and activists have reported frustrations with social media companies providing vague justifications for removing their content and delays in recovering their accounts.4

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 1.001 4.004

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to an increase in self-censorship sparked by the heightened use of legislation criminalizing online speech and a climate of repression around the 2021 general election.

Since early 2021, journalists, commentators, and ordinary users have experienced a climate of growing self-censorship that has continued to intensify amid heightening state repression of critical voices.1

Journalists and ordinary users frequently engaged in self-censorship before the most recent government efforts to silence critics.2 The practice became even more common during the coverage period, however, as fears of reprisals for online speech under recently passed laws, including the 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law, were realized (see C2 and C3). The November 2021 electoral period, characterized by a harsh clampdown on opposition figures, dissenting voices, and independent journalists, further dissuaded some Nicaraguans from speaking out (see C3).3

Despite the repressive atmosphere, many journalists and everyday users have continued to express political speech online using anonymous and encrypted platforms rather than censoring themselves completely (see B8 and C4). Journalists for independent media outlets, for instance, have largely stopped using bylines.4 Social media users have implemented similar practices to safeguard against repression. Many Twitter users created anonymous accounts to continue speaking out, for instance, while Facebook and Instagram users narrowed their audiences, sharing political content exclusively with those on “close friends” lists.5

High levels of state surveillance have also contributed to self-censorship,6 as has extralegal pressure by forces aligned with the regime (see C5 and C7).

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 1.001 4.004

The government and its allies manipulate online sources of information through a variety of means. In recent years, members of the president’s family and other close government associates have purchased media outlets, including some that operate online. This has undermined the independence and credibility of the outlets in question, allowing regime forces to control the broader public discourse through their articles and social media posts. The government has also directed specific coverage; in 2018, for example, after mass protests erupted over a plan to lower pensions while raising social security contributions, Vice President Rosario Murillo—Ortega’s wife—instructed progovernment outlets such as news site El 19 Digital not to report on the movement.1

The regime also organizes inauthentic social media activity to serve its political interests. In an initiative known as the Digital Project, more than 100 employees from various public institutions work from the Nicaraguan Post Office building to produce content and post it to multiple social media platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Similar cells operate in other public buildings in different municipalities. One of their mandates is to create and disseminate false news and information to shed a positive light on the Ortega regime, smear critics, and cause anxiety—for example by insinuating that police will arrest someone. Murillo reportedly first ordered the creation of these “troll factories” in 2018.2 Automated accounts from both the progovernment and antigovernment camps emerged during the mass protests that year, though the regime employed more bots, many of which reportedly originated in Venezuela.3

This multiplatform influence operation was confirmed and further exposed during the coverage period. In October 2021, Meta reported removing “one of the most cross-government troll operations [they had] disrupted to date”: a network of over 1,400 assets (362 Instagram accounts, 896 Facebook accounts, 132 Facebook pages, and 24 Facebook groups) operated by the government and the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). These findings corroborated prior reporting, indicating that the network had used fake accounts to post and amplify progovernment, pro-FSLN, and anti-opposition content from 2018 onward.4

Starting in late 2019, the network increasingly achieved this by creating and amplifying a large number of media brands with wide-reaching presence across social media platforms, websites, and blogs. The broader influence operation spanned at least six platforms, including Twitter, Telegram, YouTube, and TikTok. Meta alleged that the use of the brands, which sometimes claimed to be independent or local community members and even impersonated political opposition groups, was an attempt to create the appearance of vibrant public debate while flooding the online landscape with pro-state content.

According to analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFR Lab) published in November 2021, accounts linked to the influence operation on Facebook, Telegram, and Twitter primarily promoted content in support of Ortega and his 2021 reelection campaign, especially in the weeks and months leading up to the vote. As of the publication of the DFR Lab investigation, participating accounts remained operational on Telegram and TikTok, while the other platforms had removed many participating accounts.5

At least six media initiatives have sought to counter the distorted online information landscape in recent years, though many were eventually forced to close due to financial difficulties (see B7).6

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 1.001 3.003

Independent media outlets proliferated after the 2018 protests; at least 24 outlets were reportedly established between April 2018 and May 2020.1 However, such enterprises and individual bloggers face significant financial hurdles. Since the state does not allocate funds to critical outlets, their financing is unreliable.2 Even as new outlets were created following the 2018 protests, many online journalists abandoned the profession due to low incomes and the multiple threats and obstacles associated with their work. In March 2022, investigative journalism outlet Public File (Expediente Público) reported that media linked to the Ortega family received around half of state advertising funds between 2018 and 2021.3

The government has launched several court cases or tax investigations against media executives in recent years, seizing newsrooms and venues where media offices are located (see C3). Those affected include traditional outlets with a large online presence.4

Regime-instigated censorship on YouTube can affect the monetization capacity of independent media outlets that rely on the platform, ultimately silencing their reporting.5

In October 2020, the government enacted Law No. 1040, the Law on the Regulation of Foreign Agents, which obliges any individual or legal person that participates in any type of civic or public policy activity and receives foreign funds to enroll in the Registry of Foreign Agents. Article 9 of the law explains that “foreign agents” must inform the government in advance of the origins of any funds they will receive and how said funds will be used;6 as a result, “foreign agents” are prohibited from receiving anonymous donations. The government will have the authority to evaluate and determine whether the information is suitable. If an entity does not comply or register as a foreign agent within a set period of time after receiving notification from the relevant authority, the law authorizes the government to restrict its activities connected to the funding in question, impose fines, and cancel its legal status.

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 2.002 4.004

The vast majority of traditional media outlets are controlled by people close to the government and maintain a progovernment editorial line. Those that have not been bought or co-opted by the government and its allies have difficulty accessing official information and remaining financially viable. Many traditional independent outlets in the country have gone bankrupt, and their former journalists have started new digital enterprises.

Between 2018 and September 2020, at least 28 new online outlets or digital portals were established.1 According to the International Press Institute, at least 20 television or radio outlets that faced censorship transitioned to online operations between April 2018 and April 2021.2 Nicaragua’s last newspaper with a print edition, La Prensa, suspended its printed version in August 2021, continuing operations exclusively online (see C3).3

There is a lack of online content dedicated to gender-based issues and representing women more broadly; as of May 2022, online outlet La Lupa appeared to be the only one providing a gendered perspective.4 Civil society has undertaken initiatives to cultivate a digital environment that is more inclusive and representative of Indigenous voices, including through the creation of online content in Miskito and Mayangna Indigenous languages.5

The positive effects of the proliferation of digital outlets have been offset by worsening online disinformation, especially during the pandemic. The state has not been transparent and avoids open releases of health statistics; in the absence of official information, rumors and misinformation spread online.6 The independent initiative Citizen Observatory (Observatorio Ciudadano) was created in response,7 using social media and its website to publish numbers of new infections, deaths, and recoveries from COVID-19, as well as the number of deaths from pneumonia that are suspected to be from COVID-19.8 However, in June 2021, members of the organization stated that their monitoring capacity had declined due to the repressive political environment, with fear and self-censorship effectively limiting the information they are able to collect.9

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 4.004 6.006

Activists who organize online have faced arrests and other forms of persecution,1 particularly during the 2018 protests.2 Authorities at that time also restricted access to internet and mobile service (see A3).

Despite such obstacles, citizens still engage in digital activism to demand accountability and greater transparency from the government, as well as to call for the release of political prisoners and an end to the Ortega regime. Such activism is increasingly being done through anonymous accounts and on encrypted platforms, like WhatsApp, as users and journalists try to avoid retaliation from the state (see B4 and C4).3 Some movements on social media focus on environmentalism,4 while others have documented human rights violations perpetrated by those close to the regime.5 In April 2020, Nicaraguan dissidents commemorated the second anniversary of the 2018 uprising through virtual events, including a concert broadcast on Facebook Live, as the pandemic and the threat of state interference precluded large in-person gatherings.6

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 2.002 6.006

Constitutional rights are not respected in practice, and the judiciary is dominated by regime loyalists.1

The constitution nominally protects the fundamental rights of freedom of expression (Article 30) and access to information (Article 66). Although there is no explicit mention of press freedom, citizens have the right to access “social mass communications media,” and there is a declaration that “public, corporate, or private mass communications” will not be subject to prior censorship (Article 68). However, the “right to inform” is subject to subsequent responsibilities established by law (Article 67). An Access to Information Law (Law No. 621) was enacted in 2007.2

The formal rights outlined in the constitution are often violated. For example, between the outbreak of the 2018 protests and July 2019, there were a reported 1,080 cases in which freedom of expression was violated, including incidents involving the intimidation and detention of journalists (see C3 and C7).3 More than 120 journalists fled the country between April 2018 and April 2022, with 54 fleeing between June and December 2021.4

In March 2019, the opposition-oriented Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) and the Ortega government signed an agreement to strengthen and guarantee the rights of citizens; the pact formed the basis for a set of protocols that included protecting the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom.5 In March 2022, however, the ACJD stated that the government had not met its obligations and demanded that it comply with the agreement.6

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

The 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law contains significant punishments for online activities that are protected under international human rights standards. Article 28 prescribes two to four years in prison for the use of information technologies to slander a person’s honor or prestige or divulging a person’s secrets. Article 29 punishes anyone who uses information technologies to praise a crime or its perpetrator. Both provisions are written broadly enough to allow for the suppression of freedom of expression online. Article 30 assigns penalties of two to four years in prison for the dissemination of “fake news,” but it does not differentiate between deliberate disinformation and misinformation that is shared without malicious intent. The article also fails to explain how a news article can be labeled as fake, leaving ample room for abuse. The penalty increases to three to five years in prison if the content “incites hatred or violence, or puts at risk economic stability, public health, national sovereignty or law and order.” In addition, users can face four to six years in prison for revealing “unauthorized” information, or eight years for accessing or spreading information that could harm national security.1 The law, which is applicable to both social media users and media outlets, could be used as a tool to punish dissent and control the flow of information online.2

Nicaragua’s existing penal code already criminalized defamation, insult, and contempt, which are punishable by fines ranging from 100 to 300 days’ worth of wages. These provisions could apply to online speech, though the code does not specify.3

The Sovereign Security Law of 2015 labels cyberattacks as threats to “sovereign security,”4 which is defined as the peaceful existence and permanent unity that gives stability and prosperity to Nicaraguan citizens, encompassing matters such as education, health, and the economy. However, the law is overly broad.5 Members of CENIDH had filed an appeal against the Sovereign Security Law in 2016 on the grounds that it violated constitutional rights.6

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 2.002 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because numerous multiyear prison sentences were handed out for people’s online activities, including in the first convictions under 2020 Cybercrime law.

Criminal charges for individuals’ online activities increased during the coverage period, with many users arrested and sentenced under recently passed legislation. In the six months leading up to the November 2021 general elections, the government imprisoned dozens of political prisoners, frequently using their past social media activity as evidence.1

The 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law was used to charge dissenting voices for their critical online speech for the first times during the coverage period. As of January 2022, at least 10 people had been charged under the Special Cybercrimes Law, including for posting critical content on social media.2 The first conviction under the law was carried out that month, when Donald Margarito Alvarenga Mendoza was sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly inciting "hate and violence," undermining national integrity, and spreading false news through Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. Reporting found that the only political posts on Mendoza’s Facebook page were those demanding freedom for political prisoners and a call not to vote in the 2021 general election. Police confiscated Mendoza’s phone when he was detained on the eve of the election, allowing authorities to discover the WhatsApp messages used, in part, to charge him, which had been sent by other people in a group he belonged to.3

Later that month, internet user Douglas Alfredo Cerros Lanzas was found guilty of violating the Special Cybercrimes Law and was sentenced to 12 years in prison shortly thereafter.4 He had also been detained on the eve of the election, accused of undermining national integrity through Facebook and WhatsApp.5 His posts had included questions around the integrity of the election. The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) acquitted Lanzas in August 2022, after the coverage period, citing irregularities in the trial.6

In March 2022, digital activist Yoel Ibzan Sandino Ibarra was sentenced to 11 years and 6 months in prison on charges of violating the Cybercrimes Law and conspiring to undermine national integrity. Ibarra had created the Free Minds (Mentes Libres) Facebook page in 2018 at the onset of the protests to share information about the country’s sociopolitical crisis. In November 2021, two days before the general election, Ibarra had posted on the page about the imprisonment of seven opposition presidential candidates. Ibarra was arrested later that afternoon and interrogated about the page’s financing; he was reportedly beaten during the interrogation. Prosecutors in the case used four posts from Mentes Libres as evidence against Ibarra, including the post he made denouncing the imprisonment of the opposition candidates and one supporting candidate Cristiana Chamorro.7

The 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law was also reportedly used to sentence individuals—including known opponents of the Ortega regime—to several years’ imprisonment based on spurious claims by the state about their social media activity. The individuals involved claim that the charges brought against them were false.8

In February 2022, Journalist Miguel Mendoza Urbina was sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and disseminating false news.9 Multiple Facebook posts and at least 30 tweets were presented by authorities as evidence in the case.10 Mendoza, a long-time sports journalist who had gained popularity posting social and political commentary on social media in recent years, was detained in June 2021 following a police raid on his home.11

Prosecutors’ offices mounted several investigations against journalists and political activists ahead of the November 2021 general elections.12 Prominent critical news outlet La Prensa was raided by police forces in August 2021 based on allegations that the outlet had engaged in money laundering; the raid came one day after the outlet announced that it had suspended its print operations due to authorities withholding printing supplies. During the raid, the newspaper's employees were not allowed to leave the premises or contact anyone outside, and internet service in the building was cut off.13 An earlier raid was carried out in May 2021, at the office of the news site Confidencial, which has been critical of the Ortega regime, and at the home of its director, Carlos Fernando Chamorro. Several of the site’s journalists were detained.14 Other journalists have been threatened with charges under the Special Cybercrimes Law and summoned by prosecutors as part of a politically charged money laundering case against imprisoned opposition presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s sister.15

Charges were also leveled against individuals for online content that was not explicitly political or related to the election during the coverage period. In September 2021, the Public Ministry announced criminal charges against environmental and Indigenous activist Amaru Ruiz Alemán. Alemán, who has been in exile since 2018, faces charges of spreading false information under the Cybercrimes Law for his for his social media activism in 2020 and 2021, which focused on human rights violations against Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in Nicaragua. 16

Users have been arrested and detained for online commentary in the past, though to a much lesser degree. In December 2018, journalists Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora of the online outlet 100% Noticias were arrested for their coverage of that year’s protests and accused of incitement and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and hate crimes.17 Both were released from detention through an amnesty law in June 2019, though they were never tried or convicted.18

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 4.004 4.004

Nicaraguan authorities do not place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption, and the use of encrypted messaging and clandestine meetings has increased due to the dangers associated with expressing dissent publicly.1 SIM-card registration is not required.2

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

The authorities reportedly focus their surveillance efforts on critics of the regime, especially independent journalists, rather than employing mass surveillance.1

Under the 2020 Law on the Regulation of Foreign Agents (see B6), individuals and entities that are obliged to register as “foreign agents”—including civil society organizations and media outlets—would be subject to extensive government scrutiny.2 The 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law could also facilitate surveillance; according to CENIDH, the law implies that digital platforms would be closely monitored for violations, and government supporters have reportedly encouraged citizens to inform the authorities of potentially illegal content.3

Even before the passage of those two laws, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had alleged that the government monitored their online activities.4 A 2018 report by Haaretz noted that the Nicaraguan government had purchased spyware and intelligence-gathering tools from Israeli companies, though experts have not been able to say definitively which software is in use.5 Public employees who are deployed as online “trolls” reportedly track public activity on websites and social media platforms, along with domestic and international media outlets, and report back to Vice President Murillo.6

Authorities frequently seize detainees’ devices. As of July 2021, nearly 30 people, including opposition candidates, had been arrested ahead of the November general elections. Those detained reportedly had their devices seized, and some were required to share their passwords.7

There are some legal protections against unchecked surveillance, though it is unclear whether they are observed in practice. Article 13 of the 2015 Sovereign Security Law stipulates that no state security institution may engage in political espionage, intercept communications without judicial authorization, or improperly disclose any type of information that is acquired through the exercise of its functions, among other prohibitions.8

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3.003 6.006

The 2007 Access to Information Law guarantees the protection of personal data,1 and a Law on the Protection of Personal Data was adopted in 2012,2 but the Personal Data Protection Authority (DIPRODAP) that was meant to ensure compliance with the legislation has yet to be established.3

Article 24 of the 2012 law allows the exceptional collection and processing of personal data—without the consent or awareness of the data subject—for administrative purposes, including retention for a maximum of five years.4 The article also grants these functions to the police and the army if necessary to guarantee national security, but it does not clarify whether they would similarly be allowed to keep the data for five years. The law adds that a company cannot disclose and transfer any private information that it stores to a government officer without judicial authorization.5

In January 2021, as part of the implementation of the Special Cybercrimes Law, TELCOR published Administrative Agreement 001-2021 on Regulations for the Preservation of Data and Information. This regulation has raised concerns among several organizations due to its threats to the privacy of data subjects. Article 3 requires telecommunications companies to collect and preserve any data necessary to trace a communication; identify the recipient of a communication; identify the time, date, and duration of a communication; identify the type of communication, such as mobile phone, internet, or landline phone; identify the equipment used to conduct a communication; and identify the geolocation of the equipment used for a communication. In addition, companies offering community repeaters and trunk links must be able to submit information on the services they provided.6

This administrative agreement further requires companies to store the relevant information for up to 12 months, subject to requests from the police or prosecutors preceding a warrant. Once one of these entities requests a warrant, a judge can order a variety of actions, such as the immediate delivery of information contained in the systems, the preservation of the information and integrity of the systems for up to 90 prorogue days, access to the system, the extraction of the information, denial of access to the information, or any other applicable measure necessary to obtain and preserve the data.7

Under the 2010 Law on the Prevention, Investigation, and Prosecution of Organized Crime, service providers are required to design their systems in a way that would facilitate surveillance.8 The law also requires companies to maintain a record of their users that can be accessed by authorities investigating or prosecuting a crime.9

Between July and December 2021, Facebook received three emergency requests from the Nicaraguan government to disclose information on two accounts; some data was granted in two of the three cases.10

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 2.002 5.005

Internet users, and journalists in particular, have been subjected to intimidation and physical assaults in connection with their online activity. Torture in detention is common. According to NGO Never Again Nicaragua (Nicaragua Nunca Más), there were at least 167 political prisoners in detention in December 2021; they had compiled 115 cases of torture or ill-treatment in 2021.1 During their six-month detention starting in 2018, 100% Noticias journalists Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau were allegedly tortured.2 Pineda now lives in exile in Costa Rica, but her reporting team in Nicaragua still faces threats, surveillance, and other abuses by authorities.3 Gerall Chávez, a founder of the news site Nicaragua Actual, continued to receive death threats and harassment over social media after fleeing to Costa Rica in late 2018; in July 2020, his parents also received death threats.4

Carlos Salinas, a journalist who had worked for El País and the news site Confidencial, also had to leave the country in 2018 and now lives in exile in Mexico. In an interview with El País, he noted that the government used his homosexuality to spread defamatory claims about him on social media.5 He explained that regime supporters altered pictures of men to support assertions that he had physically abused his partners. Before leaving the country, Salinas said he was at times confined to his home due to the danger of physical violence while authorities decimated his reputation online.6

US-Austrian freelance journalist Carl David Goette-Luciak similarly endured extralegal intimidation while working in Nicaragua in 2018. Doxxing, calls for violence against him, and the use of bots to share such messages were among the methods reportedly employed to threaten him.7 He was eventually arrested and deported in October 2018.8

Online dissidents report that, in addition to receiving threats, they and their relatives commonly face police intimidation, as do loved ones of those living in exile.9 In February 2022, while raiding the home of María Flordeliz Ordóñez, a journalist for independent digital outlet Notimatv, police beat and threatened Ordóñez’ husband while questioning her about her reporting.10 Critical users have also reported being beaten during arrests in an effort by police to make them hand over passwords of seized cellphones.11

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1.001 3.003

Independent media outlets in Nicaragua have been subjected to cyberattacks since the 2018 protests.1 Social media accounts belonging to these outlets were also reportedly hacked and hijacked during the coverage period.

Confidencial and the newspapers La Prensa and Hoy reportedly faced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which prevented legitimate users from accessing their coverage. At the beginning of the protests in April 2018, for example, an attack on La Prensa‘s website was detected and thwarted, but a parallel attack aimed at Confidencial left it inaccessible for seven hours. The perpetrators were not identified, but some suspected state actors.2 In May 2019, La Prensa’s website experienced a DDoS attack that successfully disabled it for more than 24 hours.3

In January 2022, online newspaper Confidencial reported the hacking of a WhatsApp account it used to send alerts and receive complaints from readers. Some readers reported receiving pornographic images following the hack, though Confidencial denies that the hacker had access to dissemination lists or data on its readers.4 Users also reported receiving messages with sexual content from a WhatsApp account belonging to outlet BacanalNica, which was also hacked.5 Digital outlet Article 66 also reported attempts to hack their WhatsApp account around this time, amounting to 12 daily attempts over a period lasting 20 to 25 days.6 The same month, 100% Noticias’ Twitter account was also hacked by alleged progovernment forces.7

Governmental entities have also been subject to cyberattacks, which are commonly linked to the hacktivist group Anonymous. In August 2020, the group claimed credit for an attack on the COVID-19 database of the Ministry of Health, which allowed the public to see that the government had been providing misleading information about the virus’s spread and publicizing inaccurate counts of COVID-19 infections in the country.8 Since 2018, Anonymous has also struck the websites of entities such as the Central Bank of Nicaragua, the Ministry of Finance and its Financial Analysis Unit, the Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism, the National Assembly, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Civil Aviation Authority, among others, while also targeting government-linked media outlets like Canal 6.9

In September 2020, the government approved a National Cybersecurity Strategy by decree.10

On Nicaragua

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    23 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    45 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes