CSW has noted a concerning uptick in the number of Roman Catholic priests and faith-based organisations being targeted by the Nicaraguan government, which has plans to prosecute a growing number of religious leaders.
Throughout the month of May, CSW recorded human rights violations against three Roman Catholic priests, including the harassment of Monseñor Rolando Álvarez, Father Harving Salvador Padilla González and Father Uriel Vallejos by the National Police. Father Manuel Salvador García was also harassed and arbitrarily detained on 1 June 2022 following accusations of an alleged assault.
CSW has also received reports of threats and harassment targeting Protestant church leaders as well as the arbitrary cancellation of the legal status of six Roman Catholic and Protestant faith-based organisations. A further ninety-three non-governmental organisations have been threatened with the revocation of their legal status.
The Nicaraguan National Assembly approved a report on 4 May which proposes several changes to the Penal Code, seeking to employ tougher measures against religious leaders and those seen to be critical of the government. The report, which specifically mentions religious leaders and directors of human rights organisations, seeks to increase sentences for people convicted of the crime of “undermining national integrity” from 15 to 20 years, and the “forfeiture of property” of those who used or acquired the goods while carrying out crimes associated with “betrayal of the Homeland”.
Religious leaders who stand up for human rights in Nicaragua have faced harassment, arbitrary detention, physical violence and threats in recent years, while some foreign religious leaders have had their residence visas arbitrarily cancelled or have been prevented from returning to the country. CSW has also received reports of churchgoers being prevented from attending religious services, and of church services and special celebrations being surrounded or arbitrarily cancelled by police.
On 9 June the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the situation in Nicaragua, condemning “in the strongest possible terms the systematic crackdown on political opposition parties, the suppression of civil society actors, human rights defenders[…]students and members of the Catholic Church, among others[…]” and urging the government “to repeal legislation passed since 2018 that unduly restricts civic and democratic space” including Law 1042, the Special Law on Cybercrimes, Law 1040 on the Regulation of Foreign Agents and Law 1055 on the Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace.
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: “We welcome the European Parliament’s resolution on the situation in Nicaragua, and particularly its coverage of human rights violations. We stand in solidarity with all religious leaders and citizens targeted amidst the broader deterioration of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, in Nicaragua. The National Assembly’s proposal to toughen sentences for those who “undermine national integrity” is deeply concerning. We echo the resolution’s calls to the EU and its Member States to closely monitor the situation on the ground and we urge the wider international community to strengthen mechanisms to monitor human rights violations in Nicaragua and maintain pressure on the government to immediately cease its threats and harassment targeting those it perceives as critical of the government and its policies.”