Nicaragua police beat journalists in crackdown on free press

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan police on Saturday beat at least seven journalists with batons, including one of the country’s best known editors, in an escalating crackdown on independent media in the aftermath of protests against President Daniel Ortega.

Slideshow ( 13 images )

Earlier this week police occupied the offices of prominent editor Carlos Fernando Chamorro, along with buildings used by several civil society organizations it had banned.

Journalists on Saturday gathered outside the police headquarters in the capital Managua. Chamorro asked officers outside for information about what he called the illegal raid on his offices, in which officers confiscated equipment and papers.

After his request, policemen in anti-riot gear emerged from the headquarters swinging batons at and kicking Chamorro, his colleagues and reporters who were at the scene to cover the event.

A Reuters witness counted at least seven journalists from international and national media, including Chamorro, who were grabbed and kicked by the police.

The police chased the journalists, with some calling them “coup plotters” and threatening to confiscate cell phones and equipment.

“Three officers beat me,” said Néstor Arce, a journalist at Chamorro’s Confidencial weekly. “They kicked me in the leg trying to knock me down.”

Since April, Nicaragua has been experiencing one of its worst crises since a civil war in the 1980s. Protests raged for months before a government clampdown reined them in.

At least 322 people have been killed and more than 500 are incarcerated, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, one of the groups that the government has blacklisted.

Ana Maria Tello, who works with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) in Nicaragua, expressed concern at the “increase in repression against NGOs and independent media and journalists.”

The Ortega government did not respond to a request for comment about Saturday’s violence. Ortega has called the protests an attempt at a “coup d’état”.

Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Editing by Cynthia Osterman