Nicaraguan police have arrested a top editor of a newspaper critical of President Daniel Ortega, who has overseen a months-long crackdown on opposition leaders and potential challengers ahead of an election in November.
In a statement on Saturday, the country’s national police said they had arrested Juan Hollman Chamorro of La Prensa, a publication that is fiercely critical of Ortega, for customs fraud, as well as laundering money, property and assets.
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They said the case was being turned over to authorities “for prosecution and to determine criminal responsibilities”.
Police on Friday raided the newspaper’s offices after La Prensa said it was no longer able to put out a print edition because the government was withholding paper from it.
On Friday night, Ortega accused the newspaper of “lies, slander, defamation, money laundering and not paying taxes”.
The 75-year-old Nicaraguan president is facing mounting international pressure to account for a wave of arrests targeting opposition figures in the Central American nation in the lead-up to the vote on November 7.
Dozens of opposition leaders and presidential contenders have been arrested since early June in Nicaragua as the government rounded up individuals it accused of planning a coup against Ortega.
Rights groups and international observers have accused the Sandinista leader of increasing authoritarianism, saying the wave of arrests aimed to clear the way for Ortega’s bid to secure a fourth consecutive term as president.
The United States and the European Union have slammed the upcoming vote as “lacking any legitimacy”, pointing to the arrests and a recent decision by Nicaragua’s electoral body to disqualify an opposition alliance seeking to challenge Ortega.
Both the US and EU have imposed sanctions and visa restrictions on top Nicaraguan officials, including Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also Ortega’s wife.
The Nicaraguan “electoral process, including its eventual results, has lost all credibility”, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
La Prensa’s vice president is Cristiana Chamorro, an opposition presidential hopeful whose home was raided in early June and whose family owns the paper. She is one of seven would-be challengers to Ortega now being held.
La Prensa was the only national, independent daily newspaper remaining in circulation in the country.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression criticised the raid on the newspaper’s offices on Friday and condemned the “constant official persecution of the press in Nicaragua”.
On Twitter, they said: “Direct or indirect pressure aimed at silencing the work of the press affects democratic debate and is incompatible with the right to freedom of expression.”