On October 23, 2020, the Nicaraguan National Assembly ruled in favor of a presidential bill declaring as cybercrimes any kind of public expression of ideas against the Daniel Ortega regime published on the internet and social media.
With this Special Law on Cybercrimes, the National Police, the Telecommunications Institute, and the Office of the Attorney General will be able to act on computer systems of the media, companies, and organizations, as well as seize databases and access information in citizens’ cell phones, computers, and any technological equipment, with the pretext that they are investigating a cybercrime. The “Gag Law” foresees imprisonment from one to 10 years for those who break the law, the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa reported on October 21.
The initiative contains at least 25 definitions of cybercrimes, including computer fraud; security breach; espionage; media theft, violation, and manipulation; public information transfer; and spread of “fake” news, Forbes Central America magazine reported on September 30.
“For a lawyer to understand them, they must be assisted by a technology expert, because [the law] speaks a purely technical language,” Martha Molina, a lawyer who is part of the Nicaraguan nongovernmental organization (NGO) Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, told Diálogo. “The regime needs to control those mediums that it couldn’t manage to control until today.”
The law affects Nicaraguan citizens inside the country and abroad, as it denies them the right to complain, through any media outlet, about the anomalies or arbitary actions committed by Nicaraguan public officials, said Nicaragua’s Constitutionalist Liberal Party lawmakers on October 22, the Nicaraguan online news portal Artículo 66 reported.
This type of prosecution is used by other governments in the region, such as Cuba and Venezuela, where at least 18 people have been detained and tortured from 2014 to 2019 because of Twitter postings, the Chilean NGO Digital Rights reported online on October 2.
“The legislation also opens a process of prosecution and criminalization against independent journalism,” Sergio Marín, head of the organization Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua, told Diálogo. “The law comes to threaten and hobble the exercise of the profession; we will have to remain silent. The gag law has already been passed; the judiciary system is in the hands of Ortega’s apparatus.”