Since May 15, the Ortega regime has intensified the police siege outside the San Juan the Baptist Church in Masaya. Father Harving Padilla, the parish priest in charge, denounced the fact that on Sunday, a group of uniformed men arrived in two patrol cars, took pictures during the sermon, and then stopped some of the worshippers as they left the Church, asking for their names and addresses.
“Beginning yesterday [Sunday, May 15], the Police have stationed themselves around the Church. They took photographs when we were in Mass, and they approached some people as they left, asked them their names and addresses, and followed them until they reached their homes. Today [May 16], they were still here in the morning, parked outside the rectory garage and blocking access to it,” the priest declared in an interview with Confidencial.
Padilla noted that the siege had intensified last weekend, but that he’s been a victim of persecution from the Nicaraguan police and paramilitary since before Easter Week. On several occasions, they followed him with pick-up trucks and motorcycles.
“Before Easter Week, the persecution came in the form of Toyota Hilux pick-ups (commonly used by the Nicaraguan police) with police and paramilitary following me when I left in my car. They never stopped me; I saw that they were following me, some yelled ‘Coup plotter”, or ‘Assassin’ at me, but they never directly stopped me to attack me or anything,” Father Padilla explained.
He added that Father Bismarck Conde, the priest in charge of part of the Masaya diocese, has tried to communicate with Commissioner Luis Barrantes, Masaya’s chief of police, to ask about the motive for maintaining a police presence outside the house of worship, and especially for their blocking access to the rectory’s parking lot, by stationing themselves across the driveway. Nonetheless, Padilla stated, there’s been no response to their calls.
The parish priest stressed that the police “haven’t approached” him at any time and affirmed that he didn’t have “any idea what the police presence was due to.” He did, however underline: “if anything should happen to me, we already know where it’s coming from.”
Ortega regime’s persecution of the Masaya Churches
In the last three+ years, Father Harving Padilla has been the object of smear campaigns on the part of the Ortega-Murillo regime, spread on their official media. In July 2018, the government website El 19 digital published an article accusing the priest of “directing the terrorists who brutally murdered Subcommander Gabriel de Jesus Vado Ruiz.” The article alleged that “his complicity was made evident by the communication he maintained with the criminals.”
In November, 2019, a group of fanatical Ortega followers, backed by Police agents, attacked worshippers at Masaya’s San Juan Bautista Church, when they were holding a Mass in support of Father Edwin Roman, who at that time was accompanying ten mothers on a hunger strike. On that occasion, Father Padilla denounced that it was the second time the regime’s supporters had profaned the temple. He held the Sandinista Front leaders in the city of Masaya responsible.
In addition, Padilla accused the Ortega regime of having asked for “a change in the Masaya priests” and asserted that his conscience “hasn’t been bought. We’re free, we act as shepherds, as priests of the Church, without letting myself be bought by anyone.”
In January 2020, a large police contingent blocked off all access to the San Juan Bautista parish, when it became publicly known that the church was sponsoring a collection of school supplies promoted by the Association of Political Prisoners.
This new escalation of the police siege of the San Juan Bautista Church occurred ten days after the National Assembly, controlled by the governing couple, approved a report from their own Justice and Legal Affairs Commission, and the Commission for Peace, Defense, Governing and Human Rights recommending increased penalties for future political prisoners in Nicaragua who are charged with the crimes of “treason”. Sanctions included the confiscation of their property under the terms of “eminent domain” and criminalizing “religious figures and directors of human rights organizations who involved themselves in coup-related activities.”
Religious leaders have responded to the Ortega regime’s threats in their Sunday sermons, calling on the congregation and delegates of the Word “not to be afraid” and “not to let yourself be intimidated” since “the Church may seem weak, but it isn’t.”