NGOs Demand Gov’t Apologize for Probe

February 20, 2009

MANAGUA Independent journalists and women s rights leaders who were the targets of a government money-laundering probe last year say they still fear political persecution despite the recent decision by the Prosecutor s Office to close the books on its five-month investigation.

At a press conference in Managua last week, the investigated groups called on President Daniel Ortega to publicly apologize for the administration s probe, which they say violated basic rights to free expression and association. They also called for state investigators who headed the probe to resign from their posts.

Prosecutors are trying to limit constitutional rights and turn political rights into crimes, said Sofia Montenegro, director of the Autonomous Women s Movement (MAM).

Montenegro pointed out that in the government s resolution to close the criminal investigation, prosecutor Douglas Vargas called for the government to reform laws that regulate how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) organize. Vargas also called on the Foreign Ministry to review agreements between Nicaraguan and foreign NGOs operating in the country.

The women s rights leader accused the government of trying to regulate the foreign aid that civil society groups receive, a threat that impedes the right to free association in Nicaragua, she says.

Ortega, meanwhile, has remained defiant toward the U.S. and European governments ever since they began threatening early last year to suspend aid due to concerns over the erosion of Nicaragua s democratic institutions.

Journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, founder of the Center for Communication Research (CINCO), said the NGOs have been considering the possibility of taking legal action against the state for the investigation as well as the campaign that accompanied it in state news media. But taking legal action against the state would be unlikely to produce a fair outcome, he said.

Who believes in the judicial system in this country? said Chamorro, son of martyred journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, who was gunned down in 1978 for his criticism of the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.

Chamorro, also son of ex-President Violeta Chamorro, said Nicaragua could regain some credibility in the international community if Ortega were to publicly apologize for the investigation, which drew fire from foreign governments and human-rights watchdogs.

U.S. and European governments have suspended more than $100 million in aid to Nicaragua in recent months amid calls to restore political rights and resolve the country s electoral crisis.

Oxfam of Great Britain and Swedish NGO Forum Syd were also subject to the government s investigation.

Though the criminal probe was closed, the NGOs that were investigated could still face administrative sanctions as the case is turned over to the Ministry of Governance for further investigation.

The Nica Times requested an interview with the Ministry of Governance official now handling the investigation, but didn t receive a response as of press time.

 

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