The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states that all are equal before the law. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution grants automatic official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church and states that other religious groups may also apply for official recognition through registration. On October 23, a judge issued an arrest warrant for a former military captain suspected of killing Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in 1980 as he celebrated Mass. On April 17, a court ordered the attorney general to bring new charges against former President Alfredo Cristiani and six senior military commanders for their alleged roles in the 1989 killings of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The court repealed a 2000 ruling that the statute of limitations had expired in the case.
According to international news reports, on March 29, an armed group stopped Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez and parishioners in San Miguel, who were traveling. The group set the parishioners free but abducted Vasquez and subsequently shot and killed him. According to media reports, criminals continued to routinely disrupt and target religious communities through extortion, killing, or beating pastors and their congregants, arbitrarily limiting freedom of movement, and stealing religious artifacts. Leaders of Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and other Christian communities continued to report that members of their churches sometimes could not reach their respective congregations in MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang-controlled territory due to fear of crime and violence. In certain sectors of the country, gang members controlled access in and around communities, and there were reports that gangs expelled or denied access to church leaders and charity groups with religious affiliations. Gangs reportedly demanded churches divert charitable items to their families. Reports continued of gang members extorting organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, and demanding a “tax” to allow organizations to operate in some territories. According to media reports, gangs reportedly manipulated or infiltrated religious organizations.
U.S. embassy officials raised with the ombudsman for human rights the importance of government officials’ carrying out their official duties regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs. In meetings with Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Baha’i groups, embassy officials discussed the difficulties religious groups experienced in attempting to reach followers in gang-controlled territories, stressing the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the ombudsman for human rights.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship and the free expression of all beliefs. The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Roman Catholic Church. Non-Catholic religious groups must register with the Ministry of Government to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status. Mayan spiritual leaders said the government continued to limit their access to some Mayan religious sites, including some located in national parks and in other protected areas where the government charges entrance fees. The Mayan community of Chicoyoguito raised concerns in September about continued lack of access to a spiritual site on former Guatemalan Military Base 21, which became a UN peacekeeping training base known as CREOMPAZ, in Coban, Alta Verapaz. Non-Catholic groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), stated some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection. In September the congress requested that migration authorities ban a rock band from performing in the country, stating the band’s lyrics offended Christian values.
Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their engagement in environmental protection. Some Mayan religious groups reported land owners continued to limit their access to Mayan religious sites on private property. Interfaith coordination and humanitarian efforts associated with this coordination increased during the year, including campaigns to assist survivors of the June 3 Fuego Volcano eruption, regardless of their religious affiliation.
The U.S. embassy regularly held meetings with government officials from the executive and legislative branches in addition to leaders of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom, including threats against Catholic clergy and the reported lack of access to Mayan spiritual sites. Embassy officials emphasized the value of tolerance and respect for religious diversity, including for religious minorities, in meetings with various civil society and religious groups.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; provides for freedom of belief, religion, and worship; and states no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his or her ideology or beliefs.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported “serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua” surrounding demonstrations opposing social security reforms in April, which resulted in “excessive and arbitrary use of police force,” stigmatization campaigns, and other human rights abuses. Amnesty International reported that in October the state had implemented a strategy of repression. On July 13, police killed two students and injured at least 10 others in a 15-hour attack on a Roman Catholic Church in Managua providing refuge to student protesters from a nearby university campus. Catholic leaders reported physical attacks and verbal insults, death threats, and intimidation campaigns by progovernment groups and ruling party (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN) activists associated with President Daniel Ortega and Vice President and spouse Rosario Murillo. Media reported Deputy Chief of Police Ramon Avellan physically assaulted Father Edwin Roman in Masaya on September 9, after the priest asked government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral service. Observers said Bishop Silvio Baez was a frequent target of government harassment because he condemned its human rights abuses. According to religious leaders and media, there were many incidents of vandalism and the desecration of sacred items in Catholic churches throughout the country. Progovernment supporters frequently disrupted religious services by playing loud music through speakers positioned outside of churches. Many religious leaders said the government politicized religion in the context of what the IACHR and other international bodies characterized as an ongoing political crisis and social conflict in the country. Religious leaders said the government retaliated against clergy perceived as critical of the government. According to religious leaders, Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders who provided shelter and medical assistance and defended human rights of peaceful protesters were routinely victims of government retribution, including slander, arbitrary investigations by government agencies on unfounded charges, withholding tax exemptions, reducing budget appropriations, and denying religious services for political prisoners. Catholic leaders said the government continued to use religious festivities, symbolism, and language in its laws and policies to promote its political agenda, a practice that Catholic leaders said undermined the Church’s religious integrity.
According to media, on December 5, a Russian national woman threw sulfuric acid at a priest at the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral during confession. By year’s end, the priest was still at a local hospital with burns over his entire body and a serious infection. While some civil society leaders familiar with the case stated they believed the government sent her to the church, there was no evidence linking the attack to government officials. A Jewish leader said his group’s interfaith director met regularly with Christian and Muslim counterparts as part of relationship-building efforts.
The Vice President of the United States repeatedly called on the government to cease violence and attacks on the Catholic Church and expressed the U.S. government’s support for faith communities in their fight for human rights, democracy, and freedom. U.S. embassy officials met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to raise concerns over religious freedom in light of the country’s sociopolitical crisis. Senior U.S. government leaders and the embassy used social media to express concern over attacks on the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Additionally, embassy officials engaged like-minded members of the diplomatic corps to address concerns over religious freedom in the country. Embassy representatives met regularly with a wide variety of religious groups, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Moravian Lutherans, Muslims, and the Jewish community, to discuss the groups’ concerns about politicization of religion and governmental retaliation against politically active religious groups.