MEXICO CITY — A New York Times journalist was denied entry into Nicaragua on Thursday amid a nationwide crackdown against the media and civil society in the Central American nation.
Anatoly Kurmanaev, who recently joined the Times’s Mexico City bureau after years covering Venezuela, had his ticket to Managua canceled by the airline he was traveling on hours before the flight was set to take off, after Nicaraguan authorities refused to grant him entry. Mr. Kurmanaev had met all of Nicaragua’s legal and health requirements for entry.
“This is an example of increasingly common challenges journalists are facing around the globe for the role they play in ensuring a free and informed society,” said Michael Slackman, the Times’s assistant managing editor for international. “Efforts to silence journalists should be of concern to everyone.”
The denial of Mr. Kurmanaev’s entry to Nicaragua appears to be an escalation of government attacks on independent media amid a crackdown by President Daniel Ortega, who returned to power in 2007 after leading Nicaragua’s revolutionary government from 1979 to 1990.
More than a dozen opposition politicians, business executives and civil society leaders in the country have been detained in recent weeks ahead of general elections on Nov. 7, in which Mr. Ortega is seeking his fourth presidential term.
On Sunday, the government added 13 Nicaraguan news outlets, including the country’s largest publications, to a criminal investigation targeting opposition leaders for alleged money laundering, treason and “seditious conspiracy.”
More than 20 journalists have been questioned by prosecutors in recent weeks in connection to the case. Human rights activists and journalists said the investigation is an attempt to eliminate independent news coverage in the country.
At least one of the journalists questioned, María Lilly Delgado, a correspondent for the U.S.-based Univision network, was told by prosecutors that she was under investigation, although the authorities did not specify the charges.
The money laundering investigation centers on the opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro, who until recently was the head of a local freedom of expression organization that received U.S. funding. Ms. Chamorro was placed under house arrest this month, just hours after announcing plans to run against Mr. Ortega in the coming election.
The recent onslaught against freedom of expression appears to surpass the government’s previous efforts at suppression in 2018, when the police brutally put down large protests against Mr. Ortega’s rule. At the time, most international news media, including The Times, were allowed entry to the country to cover the unrest.
In October, the government passed a “Cybercrimes Law,” which allows the authorities to jail any journalist for publishing what they consider “fake news.” Three Nicaraguan journalists have been threatened with the law since, and some of the country’s journalists have gone into hiding.
Media freedom groups have become increasingly concerned over the crackdown, which threatens to turn what had already been one of the region’s most restrictive media environments into an information dark zone at the peak of a political crisis.
“The government of Daniel Ortega has resorted to increasingly overt tactics to silence critical voices,” said Natalie Southwick, program coordinator for Central and South America and the Caribbean at the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Denying entry to international reporters shows that Nicaraguan authorities are doubling down on their efforts to limit access to information and control the narrative.”
This week, the clampdown on the opposition reached the highest echelons of Nicaragua’s once pro-government business elite. A top banker and former ally of Mr. Ortega was arrested on Tuesday, and banking authorities on Thursday froze the accounts of 13 prominent business executives.
“There is an ongoing political crackdown in Nicaragua of a kind that should be unthinkable in this hemisphere,” Bradley A. Freden, the U.S. envoy to the Organization of American States, said in remarks following the organization’s passage of a resolution condemning the repression on Tuesday.
The government did not provide a reason for denying Mr. Kurmanaev entry. After his ticket was canceled, he reached out to Vice President Rosario Murillo, the wife of Mr. Ortega and a government spokeswoman, asking that he be allowed in. She responded by saying only, “Thank you for your interest” in an email.
Intimidation of journalists in Nicaragua comes as governments around the world are increasingly emboldened in their attempts to stifle dissent and clamp down on freedom of speech.
On Thursday, the police in Hong Kong arrested five executives of a pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily. On Wednesday, a freelance reporter working for The Times was released from a Zimbabwe jail, three weeks after his arrest on charges of improperly helping two Times journalists report in the country.
Last month, Belarus arrested a dissident journalist after forcing down a Ryanair flight in the country’s airspace. In March 2020, China said it would expel American journalists working for The Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.