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Parliamentary group alarmed at oppression in Nicaragua

12 April 2024

Alamy

The Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Netherlands, Dr Carlos José Argüello Gómez, at the World Court in The Hague, on Monday. Nicaragua has accusing Germany of breaching the Genocide Convention by providing arms to Israel

The Nicaraguan Ambassador to the Netherlands, Dr Carlos José Argüello Gómez, at the World Court in The Hague, on Monday. Nicaragua has accusing German...

DEMOCRACY is being eroded, “piece by piece”, in Nicaragua, as critics of the regime, including faith leaders, are targeted in increasing numbers, an inquiry by parliamentarians has reported.

Three UK all-party parliamentary groups came together to examine the worsening situation in the country since 2018, hearing evidence online and from written submissions. At the launch of their final report last week, Lord Alton, a cross-bench peer, said: “With every attack on political opposition, journalists, human-rights defenders, and religious leaders, democracy is being eroded piece by piece.”

UN-backed human-rights specialists last month accused the Nicaraguan government of abuses “tantamount to crimes against humanity”. Members of the Roman Catholic Church, Indigenous and Black Nicaraguans, students, and even children of people who opposed the government were being targeted, they said.

RC bishops and priests have been detained and imprisoned for criticising the regime, and many have been expelled. Eleven Christian leaders were reportedly imprisoned for up to 15 years this week, after bringing people together to pray in public venues.

In January, two bishops and 17 priests were exiled after negotiations with the Vatican (News, 19 January). They included the Bishop of Matagalpa, the Rt Revd Rolando Alvarez, who had been sentenced to 26 years in prison after criticising the regime.

The Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, took power in 2007, and since then has imprisoned and persecuted challengers to his authority. In 2018, President Ortega accused church leaders of attempting to overthrow the government when they acted as mediators after protests broke out that left more than 300 people dead.

Among those giving evidence to the inquiry was the former model and actress Bianca Jagger, who was born in Nicaragua and is a human-rights advocate. She described the RC Church as “the last beacon of hope” in the country.

Religious leaders told the inquiry, in both written and oral evidence, of their treatment, including beatings and imprisonment. One anonymous leader told the inquiry: “As a Church, we are living the worst moments of its entire history in Nicaragua, from its arrival, more than 500 years ago, to the present moment.”

The parliamentarians’ report, The Silencing of Democracy in Nicaragua, calls on the UK Government to explore bringing proceedings against Nicaragua under the International Court of Justice; impose sanctions on members of the regime; offer support for independent journalists; and carry out a more detailed examination of the strengthening links between Nicaragua, Russia, and China.

Lord Alton said: “We note that, even since concluding our draft, we have seen reports that Russia will now train Ortega’s police, and develop an intelligence and espionage system in Nicaragua with a new training centre for ‘security and internal order’, entirely run by the Russian Interior Ministry.

“We hope that our report, which focuses on politically motivated targeting of the media, religious leaders, and the opposition in Nicaragua, whilst by no means definitive or the last word, will encourage those who have suffered so grievously at the hands of the Ortega regime, and encourage policy-makers and governments to consider what more they can themselves do, and not to be mesmerised into indifference by the regime’s relentless propaganda campaign.”

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, was a member of the inquiry. He was the author of the 2019 Truro Independent Review into the Persecution of Christians (News, 12 July 2019). He said: “Yesterday’s freedom fighter turns into today’s dictator. Nicaragua is a perfect example of the fate of minority and faith communities the world over when faced with an overweening and authoritarian regime. It’s why we need to stand up for freedom of religion or belief whenever or however it is challenged.”

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