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Christians in Nicaragua detained and killed as ‘enemies of the regime’

Nicaragua’s president has ordered a UN Commission to leave the country after it criticized the government for human rights abuses committed during its clampdown on anti-government protestors.

In its report, the UN Commission for 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… It also 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. At least three more people were injured in the clashes with pro-government forces.

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.

Forms of repression

Since April more than 300 people have been killed and more than 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 Aljazeera.

On August 23, the bodies of three men were found in Mozonte, north of the capital Managua. Police claimed the men were all members of a gang and the violence was crime-related.

However, an ABC local News affiliate 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 head, making it look like an execution. Relatives say that the authorities only try 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 that the government used a “systematic ‘shoot-to-kill policy” in its crackdown.

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

In mid August 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 Periodistadigital.

The Episcopal Conference has been acting as a mediator in the national dialogue to end the conflict between the government of President Ortega 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 in the context of the protests against the Government,” according to the news site.

 

‘Coup plotters’

While Church leaders have been trying to broker peace, the Church in Nicaragua has also criticized the government, denouncing its totalitarianism, corruption and the crimes it is committing against humanity, said Ramirez.

“Churches have been playing an important role in the protests, providing shelter and medical help, as well as using church bells to warn of any impending attacks by paramilitary groups and government supporters,” Ramirez said.

That is why “the government has labeled Christian leaders ‘coup plotters’ and ‘enemies of the regime’… and why churches, church leaders and even bishops have been targeted as though they were terrorists,” she explained.

In June a group armed with machetes attacked the headquarters of the Diocese of Matagalpa in central Nicaragua.

A few weeks later, three Catholic Church leaders were physically and verbally assaulted at the Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba when they visited victims of violence suffered at the hands of the police, paramilitary forces and government supporters.

Evangelicals have taken a different approach according to an evangelical pastor from the city of Masaya.

“Many evangelical churches were reluctant to take on such a prominent political role and instead prayed and fasted behind the scenes. Churches also distributed food, water and counseled families who were affected by the violence,” he told CBN News.

CBN News withheld the pastor’s identity and the name of his church for security reasons.

“I live in a neighborhood where police and other forces have been going door-to-door and arresting young people,” the pastor told CBN News. “There are so many people missing that we fear they could be dead.”

He described an incident several days ago when throngs of police came marching down his street.

“I was under the bed with my wife and daughter, who is handicapped. It was terrifying for us,” he recalled.

According to Ramirez, they and other religious minorities have been threatened too. “In fact, no citizen or religious denomination is safe from attack now that paramilitary groups have publicly threatened to ‘blow the head off’ anyone protesting against the president,” she said.

— by World Watch Monitor

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