Nicaragua: Christians attacked, detained and killed as ‘enemies of the regime’

Nicaragua’s president ordered a UN commission to leave the country on 1 September after it criticised the government for alleged human rights abuses committed during its clampdown on anti-government protestors.

In its report, the UN Commission on Human Rights “called on the government to stop the persecution of protestors and disarm masked gangs who it alleges are responsible for killings and arbitrary detentions” and “described the torture and use of excessive force used during interviews with victims and local human rights groups” during months of anti-government protests, reported the BBC.

The government denied the allegations, saying the report was biased, but following the expulsion of the UN team anti-government protestors took to the streets again on Sunday (2 September). In the clashes with pro-government forces at least three more people were injured.

The UN Security Council discussed the situation in Nicaragua yesterday (5 September).

Protestors have called for President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist guerrilla now in his third term in office, to step down and announce an early election.

Half of the population belongs to the Catholic Church, while around a third of Nicaraguans are Evangelicals.

Forms of repression

Since April more than 300 people have been killed and 2,000 injured in clashes between police and pro-government militias. “More than 1,200 people were arrested or have disappeared with some charged with serious crimes, including terrorism,” reported Al Jazeera.

On 23 August, the bodies of three men were found in Mozonte, 170km north of Managua. Police said the men were all members of a gang and the violence was crime-related, reported national news site 100 Noticias.

However, ABC News identified one of the men as pastor Justo Emilio Rodiguez Moncada, 35, of the evangelical Camino de Santidad church in Managua. The men were found with hands and feet tied and bullets in their heads, making it look like an execution. Relatives said the authorities were only trying to cover up the atrocities of the regime.

Rights groups have highlighted the “excessive use of force by the security forces of the State” and armed third persons and the government’s “systematic ‘shoot-to-kill policy”.

“Other forms of repression include arbitrary detentions, assassinations and even the monitoringof religious activities by infiltrators,” according to Rossana Ramirez, an analyst with Open Doors International’s World Watch Research unit.

Economic pressure is applied too, Ramirez said. On 14 August the daily newspaper La Prensa reported that President Ortega had ordered a 42% cut in funding for Catholic and Protestant institutions. This reduction in the state budget will affect 173 religious institutions, with the Archdiocese of Managua – one of the main opponents of the regime – the most affected.

The Old Cathedral of Managua. (Photo Pedro Pablo via Flickr; CC 2.0)
The Old Cathedral of Managua. (Photo: Pedro Pablo via Flickr; CC 2.0)

A week later the legal advisor of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, Carlos Cárdenas, was forcefully taken from his home on the outskirts of Managua by a group of hooded men, while they threatened to kill his 10-year-old daughter, reported Periodista Digital.

The Episcopal Conference has been acting as a mediator in the national dialogue to end the conflict between Ortega’s government and the opposition. However, talks were suspended in June because of a lack of progress.

Cárdenas was arrested with five other men on charges of committing “acts of terrorism” through its protests.