FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE, BELIEF AND RELIGION1
A. Constitutional provisions
Article 120 of the Nicaraguan Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience and belief in the following terms:
Freedom of conscience, the profession of any belief and the practice of any faith not opposed to morality, good customs, or public order are guaranteed. Exception is made of religious acts incompatible with the life or physical integrity of the human person. Acts that are contrary to public order or to morality carried out in connection with or under the pretext of the practice of religion are punishable by law.
Nevertheless, the same Constitution in another of its provisions—Article 71, paragraph 3—restricts freedoms in the following way:
Political propaganda cannot be made in any way by clergy, secular persons, or ministers of any faith, invoking religious motives and basing their endorsement on the religious beliefs of the people. In the temples, furthermore, upon the celebration of acts of the faith or religious propaganda, criticism cannot be made of the laws of the State, of the government, or of public officials in particular.
If literally interpreted, this provision could result in a serious limitation of the exercise of the freedom of religion, especially with respect to the defense by the clergy of the observance of human rights, which they consider to be part of their religious duties.
B. Demonstrations of these freedoms in practice
During its visit, the members of the Special Commission had the opportunity to interview various officials of the Catholic Church, including the Archbishop of Managua, Monsignor Obando, and the Chairman of the Catholic Conference of Bishops of Nicaragua and Bishop of Leon, Monsignor Salazar, and various catholic priests both in the city of Managua and in other cities in the interior of the country. These clergymen offered their testimony regarding the situation of human rights in Nicaragua. The Commission was not able to interview representatives of other religious faiths.
The testimony of these priests as well as other sources available to the Commission indicate that in practice the priests and clergy encounter serious restrictions on the exercise of their ministry. A bulletin of September 9th of this year of the Archdiocese of Managua described the following cases of abuses committed in recent months against persons or institutions of the Archdiocese.
The church has been wounded especially by the abuse committed against Father José María González, in spite of his old age, and Father Donald García López, an Army Chaplain, who was brutally beaten by a military unit.
The Archdiocese of Managua further denounces the arbitrary searching and machine-gunning by military units of the parish of San Antonio in Jinotepe, the church of San José in Diriamba and the monastery of the Franciscan fathers next to this church and the repeated violent illegal entries of the parish house of the Assumption in Masaya and the high school “Don Bosco” of the Salesian fathers of the same city.
The parish house of María Auxiliadora and the church of Santa María de los Angeles in Managua where fired upon by unknown elements using high caliber weapons.
In a subsequent communication, the same Archdiocese denounced the expulsion on September 8, 1978 of Father José María Pacheco, Principal of the Don Bosco High School in Masaya, and parish priest of Saint Magdalena church in the same city.
In another bulletin dated September 27, 1978, the Diocese of Managua once again denounced some incidents which occurred after September 9, mentioning among other events the following:
The Official in charge of radio and television prohibited the circulation of informative bulletins of this Diocese, by informing the Vicar General by telephone that “even though what is expressed therein is true, it cannot be said in public because it could arouse public feeling.”
On Sunday, September 10, 1978 five priests from the Calasanz High School of Managua were seized and verbally assaulted and one of them, Father José María Sacedón was physically beaten. Even the Archbishop, Monsignor Miguel Obando y Bravo, was treated with serious disrespect by soldiers in the presence of their officers when he was inquiring in the Central Police Headquarters with regard to the whereabouts of the priests from Calasanz.
In Jinotepe, the priest, Marcial Baltodano, elderly and ill, was beaten and insulted in his home by military personnel, who also looted his home.
The church of San Antonio, also in the city of Jinotepe, was once again struck with bullets endangering the life of the young sacristan of that parish. The church was then arbitrarily ordered closed.
Father Quintanilla of Diriamba and Father Sediles of Jinotepe have not been able to carry out their priestly duties because they no longer have any guarantee of their personal security.
The parish houses of San Sebastian of Diriamba and Asunción of Masaya have been taken over by the National Guard and so remain.
Furthermore, seven members of the Pastoral Council of the Diocese of Estelí informed the Special Commission of serious acts of harassment and mistreatment that the National Guard had committed and continue to commit against the peasants of their Diocese. These acts are in the form of a general repression, which according to the priests, is a way of persecuting the church. The National Guard points to the church as being responsible for the general discontent of the population.
Results of the bombardment carried out by the National Guard could also be seen by the Special Commission in the various cities and neighborhoods which it visited, bombardments which damaged churches and Catholic institutions and which were denounced by the authorities of the church. These same church authorities assured the Special Commission that there had not been any combatants in the churches and ecclesiastical institutions visited by the Special Commission, a fact confirmed by neighbors in each locale.
The Special Commission also verified by means of interviews with governmental authorities and many other sources that there exists an atmosphere of constant animosity toward the clergy in general by the governmental authorities. The clergy's active concern for the defense of fundamental human rights has been distorted by authorities, who claim that they are involved in activities unrelated to their ministry. These accusations make their ministry more difficult. This animosity against the clergy has reached the degree of harassment, arrests, deaths and the expulsion of priests from the country.
1 Article III of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man states: “Every person has the right to freely profess a religious faith, and to manifest and practice it both in public and in private.”