(updated May 13, 3:15 p.m.)- Nicaragua’s Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) is blasting last weekend’s deportation of Chilean photojournalist Héctor Retamal as an “authoritarian” and “illegal” act that is “in complete violation of human rights.”
CENIDH lawyer Gonzalo Carrion says the Sandinista government’s “arbitrary expulsion” of the AFP photographer after four days of being “illegally detained” without charges or the right to legal counsel is further evidence of how deteriorated freedom of expression and rule of law have become under the current administration.
“Retamal had just entered the country legally through Augusto Sandino airport, so the only way he could have been arrested here was if he had committed a crime, for which he would be subject to a criminal investigation and a due legal process,” Carrion said. “But if he’s not charged with a crime, and if there is no legal process or right to appeal, that means his arrest and deportation were totally arbitrary.”
Carrion said this is not the first time this year Sandinista authorities have illegally expelled a foreigner without due process. The human rights lawyer notes that Italian citizen Matteo Cardella Costa was deported last March under almost the exact same circumstances after he came to Nicaragua to try to claim a piece of beachfront property inherited from his father. Cardella Costa, in an interview last March with La Prensa, accused a high-ranking Sandinista operative of trying to appropriate his family’s land. The day after the interview was published, Cardella Costa was detained by Sandinista authorities and put on a plane to Costa Rica without any due process, according to Carrion.
AFP demands answers for Retamal
Retamal, a 37-year-old photojournalist who has been living in Nicaragua and working for the AFP wire service here for nearly a year, was arrested by Nicaraguan Police while trying to cover an event with President Daniel Ortega last week. After being held incommunicado in a jail cell for four days (the legal limit the police can hold someone without charges is 48 hours), Retamal was put on a plane to Costa Rica without any charges, explanation or deportation paperwork.
After six days of government silence, National Police spokesman Fernando Borge said Monday afternoon that Retamal was detained for “violating the security perimeter” around President’s Ortega’s compound.
The police’s brief explanation came after The Agence France-Presse sent a formal letter of protest to the Nicaraguan government this morning to express their company’s outrage over the treatment of their employee.
“On behalf of AFP, I must strongly protest against his detention for four days, the conditions of his detention—four days without the ability to communicate with the outside world or any legal assistance—and his subsequent expulsion, without any official explanation,” reads the letter sent by AFP’s Latin America director, Juliette Hollier-Larousse. “I am outraged by the treatment given to our photographer, who was arrested during the normal performance of his work functions.”
The letter, addressed to first lady and government communications director Rosario Murillo, emphasized that AFP remains committed to its core principles of reporting with objectivity and reliability, both in Nicaragua and the other 149 countries from which it reports.
Retamal, who is reportedly shaken up by the incident still not talking to the press, told AFP he still has no idea why he was arrested in Nicaragua.
“I do not understand why I had so many days in solitary confinement for trying to take pictures of a meeting of the president,” Retamal said, according to AFP. “These were very difficult, anxious days, not knowing what would happen to me.”