There were no reports of abuse of religious freedom. However, religious groups alleged harassment against those who did not support government policies and favoritism toward religious groups and individuals who supported the government’s sociopolitical agenda.
Catholic Church leaders reported a systematic strategy of harassment whenever clergy publicly criticized the government. Catholic priests reported receiving death threats and harassing text messages from members of the ruling party’s youth organization, Sandinista Youth-July 19, pro-Sandinista Citizen Power Council (CPC) members, and, on one occasion, a sitting Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) mayor. A Catholic priest stated the harassment followed several homilies in which he criticized the government. The same priest stated that CPC members entered his church, disrupted services, and verbally assaulted him. Catholic leaders also reported instances of targeted robberies and public confrontation by CPC and FSLN officials after a public rebuke of FSLN policies. Catholic leaders asserted that clergy, and the Catholic Church as an institution, were frequently the focus of media attacks by government officials. The leaders said that reports of abuse went unanswered or were met with indifference by the government.
In response to inquiries by U.S. embassy officers concerning reports of selective government harassment of religious workers, government officials responded that the reports were investigated by the national police, determined to be isolated instances of criminal harassment, and handled appropriately by the judicial system.
Both Catholic and evangelical church leaders reported that the government provided or withheld financial support and tax/utility subsidies for individual churches based on the political affiliation of the church’s priest or pastor. Catholic Church officials reported an inability to obtain community outreach projects and funding without the explicit approval of local CPCs, which control the distribution of state resources at the municipal level. Church officials stated that CPCs distributed such projects and funding based solely on partisan support for the FSLN.
Following a Moravian Lutheran Church critique of the government, church leaders reported telephone services to some churches were disrupted, the Church’s tax exempt status was denied, and utility costs for Moravian Lutheran churches were increased by nearly 100 percent. As a result, some Moravian churches reportedly reduced religious services and community outreach.
Both Catholic and evangelical leaders stated government customs agents routinely withheld or delayed the importation of religious goods as retaliation for anti-government commentary. Both groups reported that the government refused to renew the broadcasting licenses of religious radio stations critical of the government. Moravian leaders noted two instances when church-affiliated radio stations were shut down as a result of government criticism or pro-opposition commentary.
The government often used religious symbols and made reference to religious values to further its ideological and political agenda. Government-sponsored billboards throughout the country portrayed images of President Daniel Ortega with the slogan “Christian, Socialist, and in Solidarity.” A retired senior member of the Catholic clergy typically presided over official government events and appeared in pro-Ortega campaign advertisements during the 2011 election campaign. Though officially declared retired by the Vatican, the same official appeared in full clergy regalia during these events. Catholic Church officials complained the retired official falsely presented the image of an active representative of the Catholic Church for political gain.
Catholic and evangelical leaders expressed concern over the government’s use of religious clergy, rhetoric, and symbols to influence the population. Leaders of smaller religious group complained the government was unwilling to meet with them and discuss their concerns regarding religious freedom.