By David Agren | Catholic News Service
MEXICO CITY (CNS) — A report approved by Nicaragua’s national assembly proposes toughening the penalties for “undermining national integrity” and could mean the eventual prosecution of priests and other civil society leaders for alleged involvement and support for protests.
The report was presented by the justice and government commissions and approved by the assembly May 4. It proposes lengthening prison sentences for people convicted of “undermining national integrity and hate crimes” and confiscating property “used or acquired in the commission of the crime of treason, crimes that compromise the peace, crimes against the political constitution,” media outlet Canal 12 reported.
The document was officially titled: The Work Report on the Analysis of the Legal Norms Applicable to Persons Who Commit Crimes Undermining National Integrity, Hate Crimes, Among Others. It included the participation of state institutions such as the national police, elected officials and “supposed victims” of the protests erupting in 2018, according to media reports.
Those protests called for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega, who refused to step aside or find a political solution. The Catholic Church attempted to facilitate a dialogue, but found the effort fruitless as the Ortega regime refused to fully cooperate. The church also provided shelter and protection for protesters coming under attack — and has subsequently supported the families of political prisoners.
The lawmaker presenting the document, María Auxiliadora Martínez, spoke ominously of the role of priests, saying, “The character in which they committed the crimes was not as pastors nor as representatives of Christ,” according to media reports.
Msgr. Carlos Avilés, vicar of the Archdiocese of Managua, said no one in the Catholic Church was entirely certain how to interpret the report.
“For years they’ve been calling bishops ‘thieves,’ ‘traitors,’ terrorists.’ If they have arguments, why don’t they present them,” Msgr. Avilés said. “Now they’re doing it again (saying) ‘we’re going to punish priests.'”
Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez has been outspoken on Nicaragua’s slide into tyrannical rule under President Daniel Ortega. He left Nicaragua in 2019, at the request of Pope Francis, who, according to the bishop, told him, “I don’t want another bishop martyr in Central America.”