[WHRD Alert] NICARAGUA / After a smear campaign, threats, and virtual harassment, pneumologist is fired for distributing COVID-19 protective equipment

María Exania Lagos Rugama

Estelí Civic Alliance

Right to health

FACTS – On 9 June, the Nicaraguan Health Ministry (Minsa) notified Dr. María Lagos of her dismissal from the San Juan de Dios public hospital in Estelí, where she had been working as a pediatric pneumologist for 28 years. According to the Doctor, the Healthcare Workers Federation (FedSalud) demanded that she be fired for having distributed protective equipment for COVID-19 among the healthcare personnel at the hospital.

María Lagos had previously been the target of smear campaigns, accusations, threats, and harassment on social media because of her critical stance towards the government and her participation in the mass protests since April 2018. These campaigns were reactivated days prior to her dismissal, when an October 2019 message was circulated again through WhatsApp, showing her photograph, that of her son and her husband, threatening her and pointing her out as a "terrorist" and a "coup-player”, and demanding her dismissal.

The attacks have targeted the entire family since April 2018; her husband and her son, who are also medical doctors, were removed from their jobs at public hospitals because of their activism.

We must highlight that Dr. María Lagos’ dismissal is not an isolated incident; since 9 June at least 13 people, among them 7 medical specialists, have been dismissed from public hospitals for speaking out against the lack of conditions, materials, and protective measures needed in the face of the COVID-19 health emergency.

We of IM-Defensoras and the Nicaraguan Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders denounce the dismissal of Dr. María Lagos as improper and repudiate the threats, accusations and disrepute that she and her family face. We make the Nicaraguan State responsible for any attempt against her integrity.

We also call on the international community to remain alert to the situation in Nicaragua, where the COVID-19 crisis and the government's denial of the pandemic has become a new excuse to persecute dissident voices, taking arbitrary measures that further weaken the public healthcare system and endanger the health and lives of the entire Nicaraguan population, especially those most vulnerable.

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