Nicaragua proposed law seeks to make fake news punishable by prison

The bill seeks to punish those who publish 'false information' likely to spread anxiety

Allies of Nicaragua strongman Daniel Ortega have proposed a law making it a crime to spread fake news on social media punishable by up to four years in prison, according to a report.

A bill introduced Monday in the National Assembly would allow sentences of two to four years for "the publication or dissemination of false (or) distorted information, likely to spread anxiety, anguish or fear," Agence France-Presse reports.

It’s the second controversial bill in a week to be introduced in the National Assembly, which is under the control of President Ortega’s Sandanista supporters.

That bill would require any person who receives funding from abroad to register with the Ministry of the Interior as a "foreign agent" subject to close monitoring and restrictions on their civic and political rights, AFP reported.

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 199th Independence Day anniversary, in Managua, Nicaragua September 15, 2020. (Nicaragua's Presidency/Cesar Perez/Handout via REUTERS) 

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 199th Independence Day anniversary, in Managua, Nicaragua September 15, 2020. (Nicaragua's Presidency/Cesar Perez/Handout via REUTERS) 

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Those who would have to register include NGOs and foreign correspondents. The bill has caused an international outcry, as well as criticism from Nicaraguan press circles and the country’s opposition.

Ortega has been accused by human rights groups of running a repressive dictatorship whose crackdown on protests in 2018 left more than 300 people dead, AFP reported.

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He has also repeatedly played down the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in Nicaragua, implementing no restrictions to contain the virus and claims the country has been successful in its response.

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Official figures of the caseload and death toll in Nicaragua are far lower than estimates from international NGOs, AFP reported.