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MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Nicaraguan police have raided the offices of five nongovernmental organizations and an independent media outlet, alleging that they participated in seeking the government's overthrow.
The raids were the latest strong-arm actions taken by the government of President Daniel Ortega. Since popular street protests destabilized his government in April, Ortega has reconsolidated power and methodically pursued perceived enemies.
Police on Thursday forced open doors and carried off documents and computers from the Nicaragua Center for Human Rights, Segovias Leadership Institute, River Foundation, the Center for Communication Research and the Foundation for Municipal Promotion and Development.
Police also raided the offices of the media outlet Confidencial, which is run by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the son of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Carlos Fernando Chamorro is also the president of the Center for Communication Research.
There was no official comment from the police or government about the raids. They came after National Assembly lawmakers loyal to Ortega voted earlier in the week to cancel the organizations' legal status. At that time, Sandinista lawmakers said the groups had promoted and financed what they say was a failed coup attempt against Ortega.
Vilma Nunez, president of the human rights center, had sent a desperate plea for help Thursday evening before the raid, saying the offices were surrounded by police.
"Riot police entered the office like thieves, they came in through the roof," Nunez said Friday.
Her organization has been critical in documenting abuses by government security forces and paramilitaries since street protests began in April after changes to the country's social security system.
The seizure of their records could potentially expose many victims to further persecution by the government. Protesters and family members came to the human rights offices to file reports about torture, disappearances and cases of people held incommunicado by authorities.
Ortega reversed the social security changes, but the protests continued until students were cleared from university campuses they had been occupying and the public was frightened into curtailing public demonstrations.
Meanwhile, police pursued and arrested many of the alleged leaders of the protests — in some cases just people who had occupied neighborhood roadblocks — and brought terrorism charges against them.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said at least 320 people have died in the violence.
Carlos Fernando Chamorro said police knew perfectly well that the offices of his media outlet were not part of his nonprofit Center for Communication Research, but they came anyway.
"They came to take computers, cameras, documents and papers of businesses that are not (the communication research center), but rather producers of the website Confidencial and the programs "Tonight" and "This Week,"" Chamorro said. "They know where the (center) offices are, and what they did was affect the work of independent media outlets to silence us."
Ana Maria Tello, coordinator for the Nicaragua monitoring mission of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, was with Chamorro Friday and condemned the raids.
"There's no doubt the actions demonstrate a significant increase in the harassment, which we reject," she said.
Monica Baltodano, who runs the Foundation for Municipal Promotion and Development, better known as Popol Na, previously served in Ortega's government in the 1980s and had been a Sandinista guerrilla.
"They want to sow terror by closing and assaulting the offices of the organizations where we work," Baltodano said. "They believe that is going to end the unrest of the people who call for justice, freedom and democracy, but they're wrong."