Nicaragua's Christians have urged the government to stop the 'appalling violence' that has seen hundreds of people killed in a vicious crackdown on protesters.
The government of President Daniel Ortega has been under pressure since Ortega proposed reducing pension benefits to cover a budget shortfall. Protests quickly spiralled to encompass a range of concerns including what demonstrators describe as the government's control of the media, electoral fraud, manipulation of the justice system and corruption, as well as Ortega's 'family dictatorship' running the country with his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
Almost 300 people have died at the hands of police and heavily armed supporters during the last three months and 1830 people have been injured.
The head of the World Council of Churches, Rev Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, said: 'We call on the government of president Daniel Ortega to cease the appalling violence and to protect the population.' He described the current state repression level as 'unacceptable'.
The Nicaraguan Evangelical Alliance released a statement on July 10 denouncing the lack of security for citizens, asking the government to comply with the law and demanding 'respect for the scourge of intolerance and injustice that they are living daily for denouncing with a prophetic voice the abuses that Nicaragua is experiencing today'. In the letter, signed by its president Mauricio Fonseca and reported by Evangelical Focus, the evangelical representatives asked the United Nations, the OAS and the European Community to act 'with greater belligerence so that the State of Nicaragua through its government, will respect human rights and stop the repression and death of the people'.
Evangelical Focus quotes a pastor threatened and beaten by police and paramilitaries who says: 'The situation here is very difficult. There is panic, there is terror. I do not know what to say, I do not know what to do. We are praying, asking the Lord to protect us because here life is absolutely worth nothing at this time.' According to him, the situation in Nicaragua 'cannot be solved in a peaceful way. The leaders will not solve it peacefully.'
The UN has raised concerns about the deterioration of human rights in Nicaragua, which is marking 39 years since the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship.
On July 17, the office of the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights said Nicaragua's new anti-terrorism law could be used to criminalise protesters. 'The text is very vague and allows a broad interpretation that could lead to the inclusion of people who are simply exercising their right to protest,' spokesman Rupert Colville said.