Church leaders threatened amid violence in Nicaragua

Oswaldo Rivas | Reuters

MEXICO CITY — The Jesuits' Central America province has warned that the rector of Jesuit-run University of Central America in Managua, Nicaragua, has received death threats for his participation in a national dialogue convened by the country's Catholic bishops to reach a peaceful end to weeks of unrest and government repression of protesters.

Jesuit Father Jose Alberto Idiaquez "has been threatened for his participation in the (dialogue), for putting himself at the side of students, for defending the human rights of those who are peacefully and legitimately demanding their constitutional rights, for making continuous calls on the Nicaraguan government to provide concrete signs that the peace it says it's seeking is the product of justice and a democratic compromise," the Jesuits stated June 1.

The order's Central America provincial leader, Father Ricardo Alvarado, signed the statement.

Father Idiaquez has supported the students who have taken to the streets only to be attacked by police and paramilitary forces. He ordered university security personnel to open the school's gates May 30 and allow thousands of protesters to seek shelter on campus after police and paramilitaries fired on them during a peaceful march.

Nicaragua's bishops have demanded an end to police and paramilitary attacks on unarmed protesters, calling for the Central American country's authoritarian president to step aside.

The bishops issued an urgent statement May 31, the morning after an especially brutal crackdown on protesters, which claimed at least 13 lives, according to media reports.

"(We) condemn all of these acts of repression on the part of groups close to the government and we want to leave it clear the national dialogue talks cannot continue while the Nicaraguan people continue being denied their right to protest," the prelates said.

Violence in Nicaragua has claimed about 100 lives since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the social security system.

The protests quickly turned to discontent over accusations of corruption and authoritarianism against President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. Both have refused calls to step down.

Outspoken clergymen have come under threat, including Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez Ortega of Managua, who has used social media to call for peace, denounce government excesses and show support for protesters.

On May 31, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered protective measures be provided to Bishop Baez because of death threats.

"The commission further received report (the bishop) and his family are on a list of people who need to be 'wiped out' and that suspicious persons are constantly watching his family's home," according to the statement. 

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