Nicaragua paper runs blank front page in protest of Ortega government

MANAGUA, Jan 18 - Nicaragua's oldest and most-widely read newspaper published its Friday edition with a blank front page in protest against what it says is the government's withholding of ink, paper and other materials needed for its printing press since September.

In a Friday editorial, the La Prensa newspaper asked: "Have you imagined living without information?," and complained that the government of leftist President Daniel Ortega had impounded its supply of printing materials for 20 weeks.

"We don't know how much longer we can keep printing the newspaper. Maybe two more months, maybe until tomorrow," Jaime Chamorro, director of La Prensa, told Reuters by phone.

Human rights organizations and independent media say the Ortega government is attacking freedom of expression.

The government recently shut down a broadcaster and held two reporters on terrorism and hate-incitement charges, while a judge ordered the arrest of three more.

The newspaper said customs agents at the behest of the government have been withholding imports of paper and ink in retaliation for critical coverage of simmering political tensions in the Central American country.

Since April 2018, Nicaragua has been experiencing one of its worst crises since a civil war in the 1980s.

Protests raged for months before a government clampdown reined them in, but more than 300 people were killed during that time and over 500 incarcerated, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, one of the groups the government has blacklisted.

Rights groups say four radio stations and one TV station have closed, while dozens of journalists have been beaten and threatened.

Nicaragua's customs authority was not available for comment on the accusations made by La Prensa. The government did not respond to a request for comment.

The Ortega administration maintains there is freedom of expression in the country and has accused the opposition of seeking to mount a coup to oust him.