Nicaragua approves “cybercrimes” law, alarming rights groups

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaragua’s unicameral legislature approved legislation on Tuesday mandating prison sentences for those who use online platforms to spread false information or information that could raise alarm among people.

The bill had been pushed by President Daniel Ortega’s ruling Sandinista Front party and had raised alarm among opposition and human rights groups, who described it as a threat to free speech.

Azucena Castillo, a legislator from the conservative Liberal Constitutionalist Party called the law “an attack on freedom of expression.“

The Special Cyber Crimes Law establishes prison terms of two to four years for “those who promote or distribute false or misleading information that causes alarm, terror, or unease in the public.” The law allows the government to define what information fits that description.

Sentences would increase to three to five years in prison if the information “incites hatred or violence, or puts at risk economic stability, public health, national sovereignty or law and order.”

Sandinista lawmaker José Zepeda defended the law, saying “it helps protect the integrity of the family.”

Another recently approved law requires those receiving financing from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”

In early October, the European Parliament passed a resolution saying the laws “will worsen the climate of intimidation, threats and human rights violations” since massive street protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega began in April 2018.

“This law seeks to control and censor information on the internet, which is the only space that dictators cannot control,” the country’s Independent Press Forum, a media group, said in a statement earlier this month.

The other new law will monitor and control those who receive funding from abroad, including nongovernmental organizations and those working for foreign media outlets, by making them register as “foreign agents” and tracking the money they receive.