MEXICO CITY (AP) — After ordering the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity established by Mother Teresa, the Nicaraguan government has now gone after one of the few local newspapers that dared to report on the nuns being removed.
Two drivers for the independent newspaper La Prensa have been jailed and police raided the homes of two reporters, according to an employee of the newspaper.
The reporters had covered the expulsion on Thursday of 18 nuns of the Missionaries of Charity after the government of President Daniel Ortega had ordered the organization closed in late June.
It came amid a crackdown by Ortega’s government against opponents and almost any civic organization not allied with his regime.
The La Prensa employee, who asked their name not be used for security reasons, said Friday that the two drivers had been taken to the infamous El Chipote prison, where many political and media figures are being held.
The government has imprisoned nearly 190 people who are considered political prisoners by human rights groups and the U.S. State Department, including seven people who could have challenged Ortega for the presidency in his reelection last November.
Renata Holmann, daughter of Juan Lorenzo Holmann, the jailed manager of La Prensa, said Thursday that her father suffered from chronic illnesses and additional health problems acquired in prison since his arrest last August.
Holmann was arrested when police raided and took over the La Prensa offices. He was later sentenced to nine years in prison for supposed money laundering — a charge often lodged against government opponents or journalists.
The closure of the local branch of the Missionaries of Charity brought to 758 the number of non-governmental organizations shuttered in Nicaragua over the last four years. The government says the groups didn’t comply with a 2020 requirement to register as “foreign agents.”
While Ortega started by canceling groups he viewed as having ties to the opposition, the government now seems intent on wiping the landscape clean of any organization it does not control.
The Missionaries of Charity had been in Nicaragua for 34 years, operating a children’s center, a home for girls, and a facility for the elderly. The missionaries offered children music and theater classes as well as vocational training for child victims of violence.
The closures have been aimed at a wide breadth of groups, among them the Society of Pediatrics, the Nicaraguan Development Institute, the Confederation of Nicaraguan Professional Associations, and the Nicaragua Internet Association.
Also already closed were the Cocibolca Equestrian Center, the western city of Leon’s Rotary Club, and the Operation Smile Association which financed free surgeries for children with cleft lip and cleft palate until it was canceled in March. A prominent businessman associated with that group had participated in anti-government protests in 2018.
Many of the organizations were dedicated to helping the most marginalized people in an impoverished nation.
Ortega has accused nongovernmental groups of working on behalf of foreign interests to destabilize his government.