Nicaragua’s parliament on Wednesday shuttered 24 non-governmental organizations, operating mainly in the medical field, in a move they said amounted to reprisal for criticizing the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure, at the request of the government, was adopted by 70 ‘yes’ votes to 16 against, and will see the associations’ assets become “state property,” according to the resolution put before lawmakers.
The government of President Daniel Ortega has clamped down on opponents in recent weeks, ahead of elections in November, arresting 29 people including seven presidential hopefuls and other opposition figures.
“There is no desire to persecute or harm any NGO — it is simply the law being applied,” lawmaker Wilfredo Navarro told Wednesday’s session.
The NGOs shuttered had helped people with a variety of health problems, from kidney failure or diabetes to pain relief and menopause.
Health workers decried the move, saying in a statement that it was an attempt by the government to “silence accusations of poor management of the pandemic and health care.”
Nicaragua, one of few countries to not have applied any virus containment measures, has officially reported 9,651 Covid-19 cases and 194 deaths, but experts and observers say the numbers are much higher.
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) said Wednesday’s parliamentary vote amounted to a violation of the right to free association.
In 2018, in the midst of widespread anti-government protests, parliament stripped 10 other NGOs, including CENIDH, of their legal status for alleged “terrorist” activities.
Ortega, 75, will be the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front’s candidate in the November election, an ally has announced.
The president accuses those arrested in a series of house and nighttime raids since June 2 of seeking to overthrow him with US backing.
The detainees face charges of threatening Nicaragua’s sovereignty under a law passed last December to bar “those who ask for, celebrate and applaud the imposition of sanctions against the Nicaraguan state” from seeking public office.