Special Law on Cybercrime: digital censorship manual exported from Nicaragua

Special Law on Cybercrime: digital censorship manual exported from Nicaragua

Published on 31 Jan 2023

The legalization of digital censorship in the region

On October 27, 2020, the “Special Law on Cybercrimes” was approved in Nicaragua, which condemns those who the Ortega regime considers to be “spreading false news”, disinformation, misrepresented information, hate speech, etc. in traditional media, social networks and any form of communication.

Despite the fact that, according to the UN, digital rights are an extension of the human rights established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this law was designed to censor and justify the cyber espionage of citizens by the State, which is why it has been labeled by opponents, journalists and activists as the “Gag Law”. This law establishes and promotes the possibility of reviewing all data and digital content of individuals, also endorsing the harassment and persecution against any type of dissidence.

Among the things included in the text is that the propagation of false news, misrepresented information that harms the country or a person and publications that incite hatred and violence will receive penalties of one to five years in prison each, depending on the case of the violation. Likewise, computer crimes are also included, ranging from the reproduction of content to cyber espionage. However, it is up to the State to decide whether a content is false or harmful.

According to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, Donald Margarito Alvarenga Mendoza was the first Nicaraguan opponent to be convicted for violating this legislation together with the “Law for the Defense of the People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”, receiving a 7-year prison sentence which was rectified and increased to 12 years.

In addition to this, Harry Chávez, Douglas Cerros and Alexis Peralta, three opponents who also received sentences under the Law of Cyber Crimes, sustaining the accusations in the publications of their social media platforms, the “propagation of false news” and the undermining of the national integrity.

In the year 2022 from ProBox we were able to register 192 socio-political trends positioned on Twitter in Nicaragua, totaling about 29,089,168 messages. Most of these hashtags were positioned by the Nicaraguan regime, especially by its sympathizers and the “Sandinista troop”, who promoted 95 trends that accumulated approximately 600,158 messages.

Only 31 of the 192 trends of the year were promoted by Nicaraguan civil society as digital social protest, generating 65,597 messages. However, the hashtag #SOSNicaragua was positioned at least 14 times, being the most repeated of the year in the country demanding the freedom of political prisoners, warning about the attacks suffered by NGOs, universities and the church; as well as accompanying the dissemination of videos on the participation of the Nicaraguan ambassador to the OAS, Arturo MacFields, to denounce the dictatorship of Ortega and Murillo.

Among the most positioned tags during the year also stand out two promoted by the regime with an opposite narrative: #UnidosEnVictorias (positioned 11 times) and #TropaSandinista (positioned 8 times) to exalt the work done by the rulers, disguise the socio-political reality of the country and demonstrate the coordination of users of the “troop” in support of the political system.

The manipulation of digital information comes from the regime

Although supporters of the regime generated more conversation on Twitter within the country, these messages had a higher average of coordinated activity inauthentically with 39.03%; that is, almost 40% of the conversation was manipulated to generate propaganda and disinformation on the platform.

On the other hand, the conversation promoted by citizens as a protest against persecution, censorship and the demand for the freedom of political prisoners had an average coordination rate of 11%, so 89% of its messages were made by real users.

According to our records, more than 20 million messages in this conversation came from 38 trends promoted by the Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information of Venezuela (MIPPCI), being the second actor with more tags, but the first in terms of number of tweets.

This is due to the fact that the trends promoted by this Venezuelan governmental entity also manage to position themselves in Nicaragua through the communicational cooperation that exists between these countries to promote and amplify their narratives, the same case as with the Cuban regime of Díaz-Canel of which we also registered trends in the digital conversation in Nicaragua but to a lesser extent (21 tags totaling 5,116,044 messages apx.).

The conversation promoted by the MIPPCI registered in Nicaragua had an average inauthentic activity of 84.78% and the trends coming from Cuba obtained an average of 56.58%.

Cuba and Venezuela seek to replicate the Law on Cybercrime

While Nicaragua was one of the first countries in the region to pass legislation justifying censorship and persecution, Cuba also did the same with Decree-Law 35 regulating the use of telecommunications, including the internet, as a response to the “cybersecurity incidents” experienced in July 2021.

In the Venezuelan case, although there is currently no law directly regulating digital content; through the “Law against Hate, for Peaceful Coexistence and Tolerance” passed on November 8, 2017 by the National Constituent Assembly, as well as the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television passed in 2004 to regulate the media, freedom of expression is censored and criminalized in all spaces.

We reiterate again the alert about the formulation of a draft bill promoted by the illegitimately elected National Assembly in 2020 to control the use of social networks in Venezuela, in order to further limit digital spaces that as a result of censorship in traditional media have become the main source of information, a window for denunciation and for the freedom of expression of citizens, activists and dissent in general.

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