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Christian women punished for praying aloud in Nicaraguan prison


MANAGUA, Nicaragua (BP) — Christian women wrongfully imprisoned in Nicaragua have been beaten and denied time outdoors for praying aloud with rosaries, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported March 6.

The report comes days after the United Nations’ Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua (GHREN) released a report documenting the nation’s increased governmental persecution of Christians, including false imprisonment of pastors, priests and lay members; confiscation of churches and other properties, cancellation of organizations linked to churches, and hate speech through governmental channels that has incited violence against Christians.

At the Women’s Holistic Penitentiary System, commonly known as La Esperanza, in Tipitapa, Managua, prisoners caught praying have been denied their daily time outdoors and have been beaten during interrogations, leaving bruises on their limbs.

“Many of these women should not be in prison in the first place,” CSW Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said in announcing the abuse. “That prisoners of any kind are being subjected to inhumane treatment as punishment for the simple exercise of their religious beliefs is unconscionable.”

Among prisoners is Olesia Auxiliadora Muñoz Pavon, a Catholic choir director and lay leader for Santa Ana Parish in Niquinohomo, Masaya. She gained a reputation for signing hymns in prison during a previous incarceration in 2018 and 2019 on false charges, CSW said.

Political prisoners in particular are denied Bibles, which CSW cites as a violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules and designed to respect human dignity and worth.

U.N. human rights experts, in their report released Feb. 29, noted the criminalization of several evangelical leaders.

For alleged drug trafficking, Pastor Wilber Alberto Perez was sentenced to 12 years in prison, expelled from the country and arbitrarily deprived of this nationality in February 2023, the U.N. group said in its report. Perez had been involved in a campaign to free political prisoners.

Fourteen evangelical pastors – 11 of them Nicaraguan and three U.S. citizens – were arrested in December 2023 on charges of money laundering for their work through Mountain Gateway Order, Inc., an evangelistic and humanitarian ministry with offices in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Attorneys for the pastors have been denied access to documents charging the defendants with crimes, and all 14 remain imprisoned, Mountain Gateway said in statements on its website.

Mountain Gateway held eight mass evangelistic Gospel campaigns in Nicaragua in 2023 “with the support and assistance of the Nicaraguan government,” the ministry said. “Mountain Gateway fiscally operated under strict accounting from Mountain Gateway staff and budget reviews by the Nicaraguan government to account for every dollar associated with the events. No members of Mountain Gateway have personally profited from funds sent to Nicaragua for ministry functions.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) joined CSW and GHREN in advocating for prisoners unjustly detained and denied humane treatment.

The U.N. group’s report “is another sobering example of the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing and severe (freedom of religion or belief) violations against the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations,” USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck tweeted March 4. 

“We call on the (U.S. State Department and the U.S. Treasury) to impose visa and financial sanctions on the Nicaraguan government officials identified in the report who are responsible for the continued egregious … violations occurring in the country,” USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf added.

Among specific acts of Nicaraguan religious oppression in 2023 the group noted in its report:

  • At least 342 organizations linked to evangelical churches, the Catholic church and other Christian denominations were canceled and their properties and facilities were confiscated, as reported by the human rights’ collective Nicaragua Nunca Más.
  • Institutions of higher education, including five Catholic and three from other Christian denominations, were canceled.
  • The bank accounts of all Catholic dioceses were frozen in May in application of Nicaraguan anti-money laundering legislation, along with the accounts of some parishes and priests.

The moves bring Nicaragua closer to its goal “to remove the obstacle of organized critical Christian voices against the government,” report authors wrote.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo have systematically undermined the country’s democratic structures to gain control, the U.S. State Department wrote in a 2022 country report. At that time, the U.S. State Department noted the closure of over 1,000 nongovernmental organizations and private universities and the detention of more than 190 political prisoners.