Partly Free
A Obstacles to Access 11 25
B Limits on Content 16 35
C Violations of User Rights 15 40
Last Year's Score & Status
45 100 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 continued to decline in Nicaragua amid a broader crackdown on dissent that has been ongoing since the country’s 2018 antigovernment protests. During the coverage period, the government continued to use the 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law to arrest and imprison dissidents for their critical online speech, and put in place new provisions that have been used to strip Nicaraguan citizenship from those the authorities deem “traitors to the homeland.” Opposition figures, dissenting voices, and independent journalists have been increasingly forced to self-censor or opt for anonymity when expressing themselves online. While digital media remains one of the few spaces for independent journalism in Nicaragua, nearly all independent online outlets must operate from exile due to state repression.

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, government opponents report surveillance and monitoring, and talks between the regime and the opposition have foundered.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2022 - May 31, 2023

  • Two private internet service providers (ISPs), Claro and Tigo, continued to dominate the telecommunications market under a de facto duopoly. However, the November 2022 announcement by Tecomunica—which is partially state-owned by the National Electricity Transmission Company (ENATREL)—that it would provide fixed-line internet services nationwide raised speculation that the Ortega regime intends to exert greater control over the market (see A4 and A5).
  • Although digital activists continued to mobilize online campaigns during the coverage period, particularly to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2018 protests and to call attention to political prisoners in the country, the near-complete closure of the civic space in Nicaragua has increased the potential risks of engaging in online activism for users inside the country (see B8).
  • Authorities continued to impose severe criminal penalties in connection with users’ online activities, including a prison sentence of more than 26 years handed to Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, in part for allegedly spreading false news online. Additionally, more than 300 people—including several digital journalists—were stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship in February 2023 under new provisions that allow the government to revoke the citizenship of those it deems “traitors of the homeland” (see C2 and C3).
  • A December 2022 report by the US–based Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) indicated that Nicaraguan authorities have deployed Russian government–linked System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM-3) surveillance technology, which is capable of monitoring emails, social media posts, and other sensitive activities (see C5).

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

Following sustained progress in recent years, more than half of Nicaragua’s population now has access to the internet. According to unofficial statistics from DataReportal, 4 million people in the country had internet access as of early 2023.1 Official government statistics from the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Postal Services (TELCOR) reveal that in 2022, there were approximately 4.78 million total internet connections, of which 4.45 million were mobile and 337,059 were fixed-line connections.2 The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimated that 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2021.3

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.4 In recent years, growth in access has been largely driven by an increase in mobile internet connections; according to statistics from TELCOR, 3.27 million new mobile connections were added between 2019 and 2022.5

According to Speedtest Global Index, Nicaragua ranked 117th out of 140 countries surveyed for mobile broadband speeds and 89th out of 181 countries surveyed for fixed-line broadband speeds in May 2023.6 Nicaragua’s median mobile data download and upload speeds were 17.19 megabits per second (Mbps) and 10.67 Mbps, respectively. Median fixed broadband download and upload speeds stood at 48.64 Mbps and 18.18 Mbps, respectively.7

Frequent power outages, caused by poor infrastructure and natural disasters, pose an ongoing threat to connectivity. A failure in the Central American electrical system in July 2021 caused a total blackout in Nicaragua that lasted five hours,8 for instance, with similar blackouts reported in June,9 August,10 and November of that year.11 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.12 Again in October 2022, Hurricane Julia temporarily left Nicaragua’s Caribbean region without power and telecommunications due to the destruction of electric and fiber-optic lines, leading authorities to cut power to the region during the disaster, though the extent of such disruptions is unclear.13

In November 2022, TELCOR issued an administrative agreement to reserve the 3300-3400–megahertz (MHz), 3400-3600 MHz, and 3600-3700 MHz frequency bands for the development of the country’s fifth-generation (5G) network, which is not yet available in Nicaragua.14 Since 2021, mobile service providers Claro and Tigo have offered 4.5G long-term evolution (LTE) service in some coverage areas of the country.15

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 March 2023, Nicaragua’s minimum wage ranged from 5,196.34 córdobas ($142) to 11,628.95 córdobas ($317) per month, depending on the sector.1 Though official statistics showed that unemployment had fallen to 2.6 percent by December 2022, 38.3 percent of the population remained underemployed or informally employed,2 often earning between 25 and 50 percent of minimum wage.3

Internet service in Nicaragua remains financially inaccessible for many, though it has become somewhat more affordable in recent years. The average monthly cost of fixed-line broadband service remained among the lowest in Central America. Analysis from UK–based Cable found that monthly fixed-line broadband service in the country cost an average of $36.99 in 2023, constituting between 12 and 26 percent of the average monthly salary of someone making minimum wage.4 The least expensive mobile data plans in Central America can also be found in Nicaragua, where as of 2022, one gigabyte (GB) of data costs $0.70 on average.5

The cost of devices tends to be high, creating an additional barrier to access beyond the cost of a monthly service plan. According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet, a basic smartphone cost nearly 34 percent of the average Nicaraguan monthly income in 2020.6

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 does not have internet access.7 Women in rural areas are even less connected, as women in general face a disparity in access to technologies such as mobile phones.8 However, the government has made efforts to improve rural connectivity in recent years, through initiatives such as the Communications Infrastructure Program for the Caribbean Region (CARCIP).9

Little information is available about Indigenous peoples’ internet access, though civil society organizations have created some initiatives to connect traditionally Indigenous communities.10

In 2015, the Ortega regime promoted a project aimed at establishing Wi-Fi access points in municipal parks throughout the country.11 The project was proposed by ENATREL and managed by each municipality.12

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 2016.13 In February 2023, TELCOR director Nahima Díaz stated that 2,880 kilometers of fiber-optic cables had been installed under the program.14

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 communications 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

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 one-third 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

Reports indicate that the presidential family has close ties to a number of shareholders in Nicaragua’s telecommunications sector, and concerns have been raised recently that the regime could seek to further influence the market. Tecomunica, which is owned by both the state-held ENATREL and the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE), announced in November 2022 that it would provide internet services across Nicaragua, shortly after Ortega expressed a desire to raise taxes on existing service providers.5 Previously, Tecomunica had only taken a role in creating and maintaining Wi-Fi networks in public spaces. Some consider the timing of the announcement and Ortega’s public proposal of increasing telecom taxes to be odd, viewing it as an attempt by the regime to exercise greater control over the market.6

A report published by 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 also allow the family to exert control over the market, their potential impact has been limited by the relatively small market share held by the companies involved.7

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. 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

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.4

In November 2022, TELCOR issued an administrative agreement reserving certain frequencies on the radioelectric spectrum for the development and deployment of 5G technology in the country (see A1), suspending any new assignments or modifications to the use rights of these designated bands.5 The administrative agreement has raised speculation that TELCOR could provide preferential access to these 5G bands to Tecomunica, a telecommunications company partially owned by ENATREL (see A4).6

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

More recently, in May 2022, the website of independent outlet Nicaragua Investiga was reportedly unavailable for several hours following an apparent copyright complaint from Banco de Producción S.A. (Banpro).4 Banpro allegedly objected to the use of its logo in photos published by the outlet as part of a profile of former Banpro executive Luis Rivas Anduray, who was arrested by the Ortega regime in June 2021.5

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.6

In recent years, police have also reportedly coerced government critics into deleting videos or photos that depict antigovernment protests from their devices.7

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

In October 2022, Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved Law 1132, which establishes certain registration requirements for filmmakers and empowers the state’s National Cinematheque—a body originally created to promote and preserve films—to prohibit the creation and public distribution of noncompliant content.5 Critics have raised concerns that an overly broad interpretation of the law could be used to restrict content uploaded to TikTok or YouTube, particularly if it is deemed to violate the country’s so-called culture of peace, with few options available for an independent appeals process.6

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

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 has become even more common in the past few years, 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 In March 2023, José Cardoza, a member of the Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN) organization, affirmed that journalists who decide to remain in Nicaragua must often avoid any social, political, or economic topics in order to continue their work and escape government closure.4

Despite the highly 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.5 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.6

High levels of state surveillance have also contributed to self-censorship,7 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. As indicated in a March 2023 report by the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua (GHREN), senior government officials, progovernment media, and social media users have used inflammatory rhetoric to stage disinformation and stigmatization campaigns against real or perceived opponents of the regime. According to the 2023 GHREN report, since 2018, such disinformation campaigns have been launched as part of “an attempt to justify the Government’s criminal actions and persuade the Nicaraguan community about the urgency of an alleged foreign attack against the very existence of the State of Nicaragua,” thereby framing government critics as enemies of Nicaragua itself.1

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.2

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 2018.3 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.4

The government’s online influence operation continued during the current coverage period. According to the Venezuela-based ProBox Digital Observatory, Nicaraguan regime-affiliated accounts called “La Tropa Sandinista” (the Sandinista Troops) led coordinated inauthentic campaigns that allowed them to impose more than 75 percent of all trends on Twitter in Nicaragua through more than 600,000 tweets during 2022. By comparison, civil society actors and activists accounted for only one quarter of all trends during the year, though almost 90 percent of their more than 65,000 tweets were generated authentically by real users, and included prominent trends such as #SOSNicaragua and #AbrilNoSeOlvida (#DontForgetApril) (see B8).5

During the previous 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.6

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.7

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).8

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 have either left the country or abandoned the profession altogether due to low incomes and the multiple threats and obstacles associated with their work, a trend that accelerated during the current coverage period.3 At least 15 Nicaraguan digital media outlets operate in exile from Costa Rica because it has become impossible for them to operate from within Nicaragua itself.4

In March 2022, investigative journalism outlet Expediente Público (Public File) reported that media linked to the Ortega family received around half of state advertising funds between 2018 and 2021.5 Additionally, regime-instigated censorship on YouTube can also affect the monetization capacity of independent media outlets that rely on the platform, ultimately silencing their reporting.6

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.7

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;8 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. Though online outlets have faced increasing financial and legal constraints in recent years (see B6 and C3), digital media has become one of the few remaining spaces for independent reporting in Nicaragua.1

Between 2018 and September 2020, at least 28 new online outlets or digital portals were established.2 According to the International Press Institute (IPI), at least 20 television or radio outlets that faced censorship transitioned to online operations between April 2018 and April 2021.3 Nicaragua’s last newspaper with a print edition, La Prensa, suspended its printed version in August 2021, continuing operations exclusively online (see C3).4 This transition continued during the current coverage period amid worsening censorship; several traditional outlets that were closed by the Ortega regime in 2022, including Radio Vos and Canal Católico de Nicaragua (Catholic Channel of Nicaragua), transitioned to digital platforms to continue their reporting.5

There remains a lack of online content dedicated to gender-based issues and representing women more broadly; as of May 2023, online outlet La Lupa seemed to be one of the few specifically focused on providing a gendered perspective.6 However, some other digital outlets, such as Intertextual, also regularly cover gender-based issues.7

In the past, 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.8

Following reforms to the National Cinematheque law in October 2022 (see B3), the human rights group Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Nicaragua Nunca Más (Nicaragua Never Again Human Rights Collective) noted that the production and dissemination of audiovisual content is subject to state propaganda channels and potential censorship.9 Such regulations could serve to further restrict the diversity of online content, particularly on digital video platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.

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? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because while some digital activism has continued, government repression closed the space to translate online campaigns into significant offline mobilization during the coverage period.

Activists who organize online have faced arrests and other forms of persecution,1 both during the 2018 protests2 and in the years following. Faced with severe legal penalties and ongoing digital surveillance (see C3 and C5), the threat of repression has made it increasingly difficult to translate digital activism into offline mobilization in recent years.

Despite such obstacles, citizens still engage in some digital activism to demand accountability and greater transparency from the government, as well as to call for 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 2023, during the fifth anniversary of the 2018 protests, the outlet La Lupa used #5AñosDeAbril2018 (#5YearsOfApril2018) on Twitter to feature special reporting on the milestone;6 human rights defenders also used #AbrilVive (#AprilLives) and #AbrilNoSeOlvida to continue calls for democracy in the country.7

Also in early 2023, civil society organizations organized on social media to denounce violence against Indigenous communities8 and convene virtual conversations about human rights in Nicaragua.9

In 2022, several human rights organizations launched the digital campaign #NicasLibresYa to bring attention to the situation of political prisoners in Nicaragua and advocate for their release.10

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? 1.001 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the deteriorating environment for free expression in Nicaragua, worsened by a judiciary that lacks independence.

Constitutional rights are not respected in practice, and the judiciary is dominated by regime loyalists that consistently fail to uphold basic standards of judicial independence.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. According to the GHREN’s March 2023 report, the period since January 2022 has been characterized by the “total closure of the civic and democratic space” in Nicaragua.3 In practice, the judiciary is subservient to the executive and has been used to target the political opposition, religious figures, and other critics of the Ortega regime through significant criminal sentences (see C3).4

According to an April 2023 report by Latin American civil society groups Southern Voices (VDS) and the Foundation for Freedom of Expression and Democracy (FLED), at least 185 journalists have fled the country since 2018.5

In February 2023, the National Assembly modified Article 21 of the constitution to allow the government to revoke the citizenship of those it deems “traitors of the homeland.” Though the constitutional changes technically cannot take effect until approved by the next session of the legislature, the National Assembly nevertheless moved forward to pass a new law regulating such citizenship revocation, which was used to strip hundreds of people of their citizenship later that month (see C2 and C3).6

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.7 However, during the previous coverage period, in March 2022, the ACJD stated that the government had not met its obligations and demanded that it comply with the agreement.8

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 divulge 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

Under constitutional reforms initiated in February 2023 (see C1), the National Assembly implemented processes to allow for the removal of citizenship through law and judiciary proceedings. That month, the National Assembly passed Law 1145, which declares that any person who has been convicted under Law 1055, the Sovereignty Law, which was previously passed in 2020, will lose their Nicaraguan nationality.4 Several human rights organizations have condemned the constitutional reform and accompanying law as illegal and a violation of international treaties to which Nicaragua has subscribed.5 Law 1145 was used in February to strip Nicaraguan citizenship from more than 300 people, including several individuals who had originally been arrested and convicted in connection with their online activities (see C3).6

The Sovereign Security Law of 2015 labels cyberattacks as threats to “sovereign security,”7 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.8 Members of CENIDH had filed an appeal against the Sovereign Security Law in 2016 on the grounds that it violated constitutional rights.9

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the imposition of severe criminal penalties during the coverage period in connection with online activities, including numerous detentions and at least one multiyear prison sentence issued partly under charges of “spreading false news.”

Criminal penalties for individuals’ online activities continued during the coverage period. Though the Ortega regime freed 222 political prisoners, several of whom had been imprisoned under the Special Cybercrimes Law for their online activities, in February 2023, they were simultaneously stripped of Nicaraguan citizenship and exiled to the United States.1 Later that month, a Nicaraguan court stripped the citizenship of an additional 94 individuals, including the directors of the independent digital outlets 100% Noticias and Artículo 66.2 The regime has blocked access to pension payments and other assets for those declared stateless.3

Several individuals exiled in February 2023 had previously been charged and convicted under the 2020 Special Cybercrimes Law, including Donald Margarito Alvarenga Mendoza, who was the first person convicted under the law.4 Mendoza had been sentenced in January 2022 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 to abstain from voting in the 2021 general election.5 Digital activist Yoel Ibzan Sandino Ibarra was also among those exiled in February 2023.6 He had originally been sentenced to 11 years and 6 months in prison in March 2022 on charges of violating the Cybercrimes Law and conspiring to undermine national integrity. Ibarra had created the Mentes Libres (Free Minds) Facebook page in 2018 at the onset of the protests to share information about the country’s sociopolitical crisis. Ibarra was arrested in November 2021, two days before the general election, after posting about the imprisonment of opposition presidential candidates.7

In February 2023, Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison and stripped of his nationality after being found guilty of several charges, including the propagation of false news through information and communication technologies and undermining national integrity. The day before Álvarez was sentenced, he had refused to board the plane that released 222 political prisoners to the United States.8 As a Roman Catholic bishop, Álvarez regularly used his homilies to criticize the human rights abuses of the Ortega regime, often spreading religious messages through WhatsApp.9 Álvarez also used other digital platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, to broadcast Masses he said online.10

On April 6, 2023, digital and television journalist Victor Ticay, the director of Facebook-based news outlet La Portada, was arrested after covering a Catholic Easter procession in the municipality of Nandaime the previous day.11 Ticay had uploaded a 25-minute Facebook Live video that showed congregants participating in traditional processions around the local church, defying the government’s prohibition of public religious displays.12 The video was taken down shortly after his arrest.13 After being detained, Ticay was denied access to an attorney or any outside communication for more than 40 days before being formally charged for alleged cybercrime and treason in May.14 After the coverage period, on June 9, 2023, Ticay was found guilty of spreading false news and undermining national integrity, following a trial that was condemned by the Nicaragua Never Again Human Rights Collective for lacking basic due process standards. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2023.15

Authorities conducted numerous mass arrests during the coverage period, detaining individuals in apparent connection with their online activities. In May 2023, the Ortega regime arbitrarily detained almost 60 people for alleged conspiracy to undermine national integrity and the dissemination of false news. The individuals were detained during a nighttime raid primarily targeting critics of the government and were held for at least a few hours before being conditionally released.16 A few months earlier, in February, at least 17 people were detained after they allegedly spread false news about organized crime on WhatsApp. Though they were later released, the individuals were reportedly warned that they had violated the Special Cybercrimes Law and their phones were confiscated. It remains unclear whether any of them ultimately faced criminal charges.17

In July 2022, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) acquitted internet user Douglas Alfredo Cerros Lanzas of the crimes of spreading false news and undermining national integrity, citing irregularities in his trial.18 Lanzas had been found guilty under the Special Cybercrimes Law during the previous coverage period, in January 2022, and had been sentenced to 12 years in prison.19 He was detained on the eve of the election, accused of undermining national integrity through Facebook and WhatsApp.20 His posts had included questions around the integrity of the election.

During the previous coverage period, prosecutors’ offices mounted several investigations against journalists and political activists ahead of the November 2021 general elections.21 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.22 One year later, in August 2022, authorities completed a “de facto confiscation” of La Prensa’s assets, confiscating the outlet’s headquarters and converting it into a cultural center.23 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.24

In recent years, charges have also been leveled against individuals for online content that was not explicitly political or related to the 2021 election. 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 social media activism in 2020 and 2021, which focused on human rights violations against Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations in Nicaragua.25

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 have typically focused their surveillance efforts on critics of the regime, especially independent journalists, rather than employing mass surveillance.1 However, evidence emerged during the coverage period that state surveillance since 2018 could be more extensive and sophisticated than previously thought.

A December 2022 report by the US–based National Defense University’s INSS covering Russia’s influence in Latin America claimed that Nicaraguan authorities have adopted Russian government–linked System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM-3) surveillance technology in Nicaragua since approximately 2018.2 SORM-3 is reportedly capable of intercepting a number of digital activities, including financial transactions, text messages, phone calls, emails, and posts on social networks, meaning that the Ortega regime has potentially been employing a sophisticated surveillance and monitoring system for several years.3 Such reporting comes as Nicaraguan authorities have sought to deepen cybersecurity cooperation with Russia (see C8).

In the past, authorities have reportedly targeted critics of the regime for digital monitoring.4 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.5 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.6

Even before the passage of those two laws, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had alleged that the government monitored their online activities.7 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.8 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.9

Authorities frequently seize detainees’ devices. In February 2023, at least 17 individuals reportedly had their phones confiscated after they were detained for allegedly spreading false news on WhatsApp (see C3).10

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.11

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 had yet to be established by the end of the coverage period.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 2022, Facebook received one emergency request from the Nicaraguan government to disclose information on three accounts; some data was granted in response to the request.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 and ill-treatment in detention is common. According to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners, at least 46 political prisoners remained detained in Nicaragua as of May 2023.1

In its March 2023 report, the GHREN stated that it has documented more than 100 cases of individuals and their relatives who were subjected to intimidation and harassment—not limited to online activities—by the police and other regime-aligned groups since April 2018.2

Individuals imprisoned by the regime are often subjected to poor conditions in detention. One political prisoner released in February 2023, Isaías Martínez Rivas, who ran a digital media outlet, described being held in a cell with 12 other people who harassed him and stole his personal belongings.3 Reports have documented malnutrition among political prisoners,4 while others have described the isolation prisoners are subjected to as a form of psychological torture.5

Carlos Salinas, a journalist who had worked for El País and the news site Confidencial, 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.6 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.7

US–Austrian freelance journalist Carl David Goette-Luciak similarly endured extralegal intimidation while working in Nicaragua in 2018. Doxing, calls for violence against him, and the use of bots to share such messages were among the methods reportedly employed to threaten him.8 He was eventually arrested and deported in October 2018.9

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.10 In February 2022, while raiding the home of María Flordeliz Ordóñez, a journalist for independent digital outlet Notimatv, police beat and threatened Ordóñez’s husband while questioning her about her reporting.11 Critical users have also reported being beaten during arrests in an effort by police to make them hand over passwords of seized cell phones.12

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 Independent outlets remain at risk from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and hacking, as well as less sophisticated forms of cyberattacks.

In recent years, Confidencial and the newspapers La Prensa and Hoy have reportedly faced 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 Artículo 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’s Twitter account was also hacked by alleged progovernment forces.7

During the coverage period, in November 2022, Confidencial’s YouTube channel was temporarily suspended by the platform after it was hacked as part of an apparent cryptocurrency scam.8 The outlet was able to recover its video catalogue following the hack, and access to the channel was fully restored one day later, after YouTube completed an investigation.9

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.10 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 6.11

In November 2022, authorities announced that Nicaragua and Russia had signed a cybersecurity cooperation plan for 2022–26.12 This was followed by a memorandum of understanding focused on responding to cybersecurity incidents signed between TELCOR and Russian authorities in May 2023.13 In September 2020, the government approved a National Cybersecurity Strategy by decree.14

On Nicaragua

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  • Global Freedom Score

    19 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    42 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

  • Websites Blocked

  • Pro-government Commentators

  • Users Arrested