One of the oldest and last remaining independent radio broadcasters in Nicaragua has been forced off the air, in a decision its director described as “political.”
The Nicaraguan telecommunications agency issued a letter to Radio Dario on Friday, informing the independent broadcaster that its license was to be revoked.
A copy of the letter, posted to social media by Radio Dario’s director and owner Anibal Toruno, alleged that an inspection of the station’s headquarters in the city of León, 90 kilometers from the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, found that the studios “do not correspond to those authorized by the license.”
Toruno denied the allegations, telling VOA, “This decision is political.”
He believes the telecommunications agency “invented technical issues with no legal basis,” and said the station is in compliance with the law.
Radio Dario is an affiliate of Voice of America.
Founded more than 70 years ago, Radio Dario is the latest news outlet to close or be forced out in Nicaragua because of what rights groups and journalists describe as pressure from President Daniel Ortega and his administration.
At least 17 media outlets — many of them community stations — also had licenses revoked in Nicaragua in the past two months, and more than 130 journalists have fled into exile, most heading to Costa Rica.
Last month, the historic newspaper La Prensa announced that its remaining staff had all gone into exile.
“The persecution that the government of Daniel Ortega has directed against the staff of La Prensa has obliged staff to flee,” a statement published by the 95-year-old paper said.
The news outlet plans to continue to operate an online version of their paper from exile.
In announcing its decision, La Prensa cited raids and arrests of staff, including its publisher, Juan Lorenzo Holmann. Authorities in March convicted Holmann of money laundering and sentenced him to nine years in prison.
In a statement at the time, New York-based rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists described Holmann’s conviction as “the latest step in the Nicaraguan government’s relentless campaign to stifle free expression and portray independent journalism as nothing short of criminal activity."
Pedro Vaca Villarreal, special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, described the mass exodus of one paper’s staff as “unprecedented” in the continent’s history.
The Nicaragua permanent mission to the United States did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Ortega and his administration have previously accused their critics of conspiring against the government, the AFP reports.
The closure of Radio Dario comes after the station has withstood years of pressure and attacks.
Attackers in 2018 set the broadcaster’s offices on fire with around a dozen people inside. The staff managed to flee, but the arson destroyed their studios.
Later that year, police raided the new offices and briefly detained and questioned staff, according to CPJ.
At the time, independent media outlets and journalists across Nicaragua were being attacked or threatened over their coverage of anti-government protests.
Despite the attacks and pressure, Toruno is undeterred. “This is not the end, this is the beginning of a new reality,” he told VOA.
“We are going to continue reinventing ourselves, and of course, we are going to continue presenting the cruel reality of the tragedy that the Nicaraguan people are experiencing.”
Nicaragua ranks 160 out of 180 regions, where one has the optimum conditions for a free press, according to the World Press Freedom Index. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that under Ortega, the country’s media “endure a nightmare of censorship, intimidation and threats” and that many now report from exile.
Houston Castle Ford and VOA’s Spanish language division contributed to this article. Some information is from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.