A police siege of the Catholic Cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua, ended on Wednesday after a mob loyal to Communist dictator Daniel Ortega broke into the building and attacked opposition hunger strikers.
Police also confronted students at the Central American University, where protesters demanded the release of opposition activists.
A priest and a nun were injured when Ortega supporters stormed the Managua cathedral and another church to assault the hunger strikers, who were protesting Ortega’s brutal crackdown on the opposition and demanding the release of political prisoners. The activists were forced to flee from the cathedral and take refuge from the mob in another building until they could be evacuated by the Red Cross.
“We had a bad, bad, bad time,” one of the activists said.
Another hunger strike conducted by 11 women activists remains in progress at the Church of San Miguel in Masaya. Police have surrounded the church, cutting off water, electricity, and contact with the outside world. According to opposition leaders, over a dozen other churches have been “besieged by police and government forces” to prevent protest actions from occurring on their grounds.
The protesters are calling for the release of those arrested during Ortega’s vicious crackdown on protests in the spring of 2018, in which hundreds of people were killed. Ortega characterized the demonstrations as a coup attempt, charged 16 demonstrators with plotting terrorist attacks, and accused Catholic bishops of being “coup plotters” because they supported the protests. The female hunger strikers are the mothers of these political prisoners.
At the Central American University in Managua, students responded to the Catholic Cathedral assault by shouting “Respect the Church” and throwing water and dirt at security troops who were preventing them from entering the school.
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) November 20, 2019
Ortega’s repressive actions were condemned by the Church, the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations, and the United States.
A spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights Commission said on Wednesday that Ortega’s government must “end the persistent repression of dissent and the ongoing pattern of arbitrary arrests” and “refrain from criminalizing and attacking human rights defenders, political opponents and any other dissenting voices.”
The U.N. agreed with opposition activists that the charges against Ortega’s political prisoners appeared “trumped-up” and constituted “a renewed attempt to stifle dissent.”
The Organization of American States said on Tuesday that Ortega’s policies make “the democratic functioning of the country unviable, turning it into a coopted state that is not compatible with the rule of law.”
The OAS published a report accusing the Nicaraguan regime of widespread abuses and creating a “critical human rights situation.”
“We condemn these acts of desecration, harassment and intimidation, which are not contributing to the peace and stability of the country,” the Roman Catholic Church said in a statement about the mob assault on the Catholic Cathedral.
The archdiocese of Managua said the cathedral was attacked by “violent government-sponsored groups” who “broke the locks of the bell tower and other padlocks of the church, desecrating our Metropolitan Cathedral,” in addition to assaulting the priest and nun who tried to stop them.
“We condemn these acts of desecration, siege, and intimidation that do not favor the peace and stability of the country,” the archdiocese said.
The Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America and the Caribbean issued a statement of solidarity with the hunger strikers on Wednesday and condemned both the attack on the cathedral and the “siege against various parishes.”
The conference also condemned the police siege of Central American University and condemned “the attempts by government-controlled groups to violate the University campus.”
“We request Mr. Daniel Ortega immediately order the cessation of harassment, aggression, and violation of the human and civil rights of members of the opposition, and we urge all those responsible for these sieges to abandon their positions,” the conference declared.
Ortega’s Vice President (and wife) Rosario Murillo lashed out at the Catholic Church on Wednesday, accusing it of sowing “hatred, separation, and division” by supporting opponents of her dictatorship.
Murillo criticized “those who claim to speak in the name of the faith” while supporting the opposition and called them “repugnant wolves who spread hatred.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus on Thursday expressed the deep concern of the United States for “the health and safety of Nicaraguan political prisoners’ family members who are under siege at the San Miguel Archangel Church in Masaya and on the eighth day of a hunger strike.”
“The Ortega regime’s siege of a place of worship is unacceptable, as are the arrests of more than a dozen individuals who were attempting to aid the hunger strikers. Arrests and fabricated charges against Nicaraguans seeking to aid hunger strikers demonstrate yet again that the Nicaraguan National Police are not the protectors of the Nicaraguan people. They are their repressers, backing Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian rule,” Ortagus said.
“We stand in solidarity with all Nicaragua’s political prisoners, as well as with those who sought to provide the hunger strikers with relief,” she said, promising the United States is prepared to use “all economic and diplomatic means at our disposal to support the Nicaraguan people’s calls for a restoration of democracy.”