Nicaragua’s parliament, controlled by allies of President Daniel Ortega, has shut down 25 nongovernmental organisations in a move slammed by the opposition as the latest example in a months-long crackdown on civil society.
The groups, many of which have publicly criticised the government, were closed by Congress on Wednesday with 74 votes in favour and 15 abstentions.
Lawmakers argued the NGOs had violated Nicaraguan laws and failed to disclose financial accounts. Most of the groups work on human rights issues and carry out social and cultural work.
“There is no will from the government to have organisations … documenting violations of human rights,” said Marcos Carmona, who heads the Permanent Commission on Human Rights, one of the organisations affected by the measure.
Ortega’s government continues to persecute and jail opposition figures and other political opponents, in a wide-reaching crackdown that began months before the longtime leader was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term as president in November.
Dozens of opposition figures – including seven presidential hopefuls – were detained in what rights groups said was an effort to guarantee Ortega’s re-election, while several other opposition leaders have been forced into exile, often to neighbouring Costa Rica.
Of those arrested, more than two dozen have now been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Late last month, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States resigned, condemning the government for human rights abuses and a crackdown on freedom of speech.
European and United States officials have repeatedly called on the Nicaraguan authorities to release all the opposition figures, describing them as “political prisoners” languishing under dire conditions.
The Coen Foundation, the social arm of a powerful business group in Central America, and the foundation of Nicaraguan writer and former Vice President Sergio Ramirez, currently in exile, were among the NGOs closed on Wednesday.
The assets of the groups will pass into the hands of the state, according to the legislative decision, as has happened in previous cases.
“Many of these NGOs, which also operate as microfinance companies and have lucrative activities, can perfectly continue to operate under the regulation of the Ministry of Commerce,” said pro-government lawmaker Wilfredo Navarro.
Authorities of the Central American country have shut down 163 NGOs since mass protests against Ortega’s government in 2018 sparked a political crisis.