Ortega government invades churches and closes Catholic radio stations in Nicaragua

After persecuting and censoring the traditional press, Nicaragua is now attacking Catholic radio stations in a campaign against the presence of the Church itself in the country.

Last month, expulsion of nuns images of the Missionaries of Charity Association, an order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, shocked the world with the nuns being escorted by the police to leave the country on foot.

Ignoring the repercussion of the case, Nicaraguan authorities this week closed media outlets associated with the Catholic Church and invaded religious temples to seize broadcasting equipment.

Priest locks himself in church in Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) denounced the actions of the Nicaraguan police against the Church and Catholic radio stations on social media.

On Monday (1st), security forces invaded the Menino Jesus de Praga chapel and the Divine Mercy church, both located in the city of Sébaco, in Matagalpa, in the north of the country.

In the chapel, Sébaco’s Catholic Radio, one of the seven stations of the Diocese of Matagalpa. Hours before the invasion, all these radios were closed by the Instituto Nicaraguense de Telecomunicações e Correios (Telcor), on the grounds that the vehicles were not licensed to operate.

The affected stations are Radio Hermanos, Radio Santa Lucía in Ciudad Darío, Radio Catolica in Sébaco, Radio Estranges in San Dionísio, Radio San José in Matiguas, Radio Monte Carmelo in Río Blanco and Radio Nuestra Señora de Lourdes in La Dalia.

In a note, Cenidh refuted the authorities’ arguments, stating that the necessary documents were presented in 2016 by Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, responsible for the diocese and vehicles.

With the revocation of licenses by the Telcor, the police went to the Infant Jesus of Prague chapel to seize the equipment used in the media.

But, according to information from the Confidencial portal, the church’s faithful went to the place beforehand and removed the materials from the radio.

Even so, the police invaded the chapel and threw tear gas to disperse the people who were there. There are reports of arrests and injuries in the action, although authorities do not confirm the figures reported by religious and human rights groups.

Father Uriel Vallejos locked himself in one of the rooms and, until Wednesday (3), reported on Twitter that he remained inside the church to prevent the Catholic Radio from being destroyed.

The police followed the scene and cut the light to force the priest out, according to him published on social media.

Throughout the week, Father Uriel reported the state of siege he was in with the presence of the police in the chapel. On one occasion, the police tried to force their way into the room where he was staying, but failed.

“There are many police officers inside and outside the chapel,” he tweeted. On the same grounds as the church, there is also a school run by the religious and, with the action of the police, classes were suspended.

Cenidh condemned the police action and called on the authorities to “stop using tear gas against Catholic people, as the duty is to protect Nicaraguans, not attack them.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also said it was aware of the closing of Catholic radio stations, which followed a “violent police action” and called on the government to “immediately cease” the crackdown on Nicaraguan citizens.

In an interview with Confidencial, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez said he was ready to fight the censorship of radio stations in the diocese.

“All our radios were closed. But the Word of God will not be silenced.”

Persecution of religious intensified in 2018

Just over six months after Daniel Ortega’s re-election, the situation of press freedom in Nicaragua shows no signs of improving, and the case of Catholic radio stations is just one of many recent examples in the country.

The country ranks 160th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom rankingwhich lists 180 nations.

According to RSF, local journalism “continues to face a nightmare of censorship, intimidation and threats”, with journalists subjected to harassment, arbitrariness, arrests and death threats, which is why several have gone into exile.

The website Confidencial highlights that the persecution of the Catholic Church intensified in 2018, when the institution denounced human rights violations against the population of Nicaragua.

This year, however, the regime increased the pressure against the religious even further. In July, 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity Association were expelled from the country and forced to cross the border with Costa Rica on foot.

The group had been operating in the country since 1988 and maintained a home for needy girls, one for the elderly and a day care center for young children.

That same week, the government ordered 100 nonprofit organizations to close. Ortega has closed more than 900 NGOs in the country since protests calling for his resignation in 2018.

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