Since September 2020, the Nicaraguan government has been pressuring Catholic priests by canceling their residences and/or preventing them from returning to the country.
The Franciscan priest José Lemus Aguilar, parish priest of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, of the diocese of Matagalpa, traveled to El Salvador, however, in February he could not return to Nicaragua. In January, Friar Santos Fabían Mejía was also not allowed to enter the country after he visited his congregation in El Salvador. According to the immigration authorities, both had restrictions on re-entry into the country, they assure that one of them was not “fit” to be in the country and the other had “gotten involved in politics”.
Just a few months ago, Nicaraguan authorities canceled the permanent residency of Father Luis Alirio Carrillo, a 45-year-old Catholic priest of Colombian origin. According to him, the government did so without prior notice or explaining the reasons for the cancelation. Carrillo, whose residence permit in the country was valid until 2022, has left Nicaragua together with his bishop due to the uncertainty generated by his immigration status.
The priest performed pastoral work in Nicaragua for over 10 years. He states that the cancelation of his residency is motivated by discriminatory factors. He believes that his preaching makes the government of President Ortega uncomfortable and that is the reason why he is being targeted.
Inmigration authorities also canceled the residency of Father Julio Melgar, 59 years old and with 40 years of missionary work in Nicaragua. Although his residence permit was extended until February, his stay in the country is uncertain.
The General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners has not responded to questions about why the residencies were canceled. Lawyer, a former Catholic priest, and ex-diplomat Edgar Parrales believe that the criticism of the government in the preaching of some priests may be subject to a subjective interpretation by the government, which has motivated the cancellation of their residences.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has faced several harassments by state actors over the last few years. The relationship between the state and the church has become tenser after national protests in April 2018. During this outburst, the Catholic Church played a protective, human rights defender role, and therefore contrary to the position of the regime, which has made them the target of reprisals.