Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved a set of reforms to the National Cinematheque Act and to the Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts Act to prohibit the “creation, public exhibition, and commercialization of cinematographic and audiovisual products, as well as the confiscation of these.” With these reforms, lawyers and filmmakers warn, the Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo regime will control and censor audiovisual productions in the country.
“We are concerned about all the powers of the National Cinematheque, because it makes culture and the production of audiovisual material an initiative of the State and not an individual or legal person’s initiative to promote thought,” Carlos Guadamuz, defense lawyer of the Nicaragua Nunca Más Collective, a Costa Rica-based nongovernmental human rights organization, told Diálogo on November 8. “It’s a law that harms the political Constitution and puts at serious risk and vulnerability freedom of expression and thought, as well as the patrimony of all persons who wish to conduct activities in filming and recording.”
As of October 13, Nicaraguan cinematography will be supervised and controlled by an article that establishes that “any natural or legal person, national or foreign, who intends to develop audiovisual and cinematographic activities of any kind in the national territory, must comply with the registration requirements before the National Cinematheque and have the proper authorization for the execution of such activities.” The Cinematheque will be able to dictate protective measures to guarantee that nationals or foreigners comply with the regulations “in the creation of cinematographic or audiovisual products,” Nicaraguan daily La Prensa reported.
“This is what is worrisome because, in a context like that of Nicaragua, where it is already known that one cannot publish things against the regime because there are consequences, now what we have is a law that not only impedes and prohibits the exhibition of works, but also their production,” Ricardo Zambrano, Nicaraguan filmmaker, director, and producer in exile, told Diálogo. “Filmmakers will not be able to make documentaries or films that criticize the regime. Any person, producer, TikToker, or Youtuber who tells their stories with a camera in the street and who, in the eyes of the Cinematheque, is not contributing to the peace and well-being of Nicaragua, will see their production boycotted and the material confiscated.”
The Nicaragua Nunca Más Collective emphasizes that these reforms link films or audiovisual activities and the production of documentaries to Nicaraguan television channel 6, a state television station that only reproduces the content of television channel 4, the main broadcaster of the Ortega-Murillo regime propaganda.
“In Nicaragua any registry by any state entity leads to stigmatization,” Guadamuz said. “We are concerned that these registries are carried out before authorities where the processes or guarantees of due process are not complied with, and there is no possibility of filing complaints or using the court of law to ensure compliance with the freedoms and human rights of Nicaraguans.”
Nicaraguan sociologist and documentary filmmaker Leonor Zúñiga also highlighted the regime’s strategy, which uses ambiguous concepts, such as “Culture of Peace,” to justify actions against the freedoms of Nicaraguans.
“This concept has already been used in other post-rebellion 2018 laws, to justify censorship of anything that represents criticism of power, and therefore threatens ‘peace,’” Zúñiga said via Twitter. “With this, they not only affect production companies that require state support. This authorization to the Cinematheque can prohibit any individual with a camera (yes, TikTokers) to produce something if it does not align with the ‘Culture of Peace.’”
In a press release shared on social media, independent Nicaraguan filmmakers called on audiovisual producers and creators in Latin America and worldwide to “reflect on the importance of defending creative freedom and act collectively to ensure that the hard-won rights of freedom of expression and cultural creation in Nicaragua and Central America are respected.”
Idania Castillo, former daughter in law of Ortega and Murillo heads the National Cinematheque and has become the new overseer of audiovisual products in Nicaragua but also of those engaged in this activity, La Prensa reported.