A spokesman for the Nicaragua Catholic Bishops’ Conference has described Daniel Ortega’s presidency as “illegitimate” and has criticised a recent wave of governmental laws designed to punish political dissent.
In September, Ortega’s Sandinista Front introduced a hate crime bill, began to regulate assets of “foreign agents”, removed prison sentencing limits and made moves to increase restrictions on the freedom of the press.
As reported by FIDES, Bishop Abelardo Mata of Esteli lambasted President Ortega and the new laws: “With what right does he want to control the life of an entire country, when he himself is an illegitimate president? Therefore, everything he does is illegal. He has no right to be above the Constitution. He is the one who is obliged to respect the law. It is Ortega himself who has violated the law.
“These laws have no weight because they are vitiated by their origin, because Ortega is in power illegitimately,” said Bishop Mata. He added that the government “cannot take away civil and political rights, it cannot be above what our Constitution recognizes.”
President Ortega has been criticised for using his majority control of the National Assembly to push through a legislative agenda that deepens the crackdown on recent anti-government protests.
Ortega has blamed foreign interference and funding for the protests and has used this claim to justify a bill requiring people and organisations that receive money from abroad to register as “foreign agents”.
Whilst the law provides exemptions for money received from relatives or from different branches of the same business, it would still require individuals or groups receiving any other outside money to abstain from political activity of any kind. Anyone found guilty of violating the law could have their assets seized by the government.
This “foreign agents” law would include the regulation of journalists in Nicaragua who write for international publications. The Sandinista Front, however, went further and added a cybercrime bill that would allow the government to suppress criticism contained in news reports and on social media platforms.
Amnesty International warned that the new laws had “intensified state repression against activists, human rights defenders and journalists … who criticize government policies, inform the population and defend human rights.”
On the 199th Anniversary of Nicaraguan independence, President Ortega lashed out at these anti-government activists, saying that they were guilty of “hate crimes” and were therefore not protected by the 30-year cap on jail sentencing: “We are not committed to not applying life sentences to criminals.”
Ortega, the former leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, became president of Nicaragua for a second time in 2007.
The Church hierarchy, described as “coup plotters” by Ortega, have spoken out repeatedly since then against Ortega’s suppression of protestors and his abolition of presidential term limits.
Pro-government supporters have responded with violent attacks on clergy and vandalism of church property, including a firebombing at Managua Cathedral last August.
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