". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Nicaragua Imprisons Pastors following Sham Trial

April 1, 2024

The Marxist regime in Nicaragua is continuing its crackdown against Christians, sentencing nearly a dozen evangelical pastors to prison. 11 Nicaraguan pastors with Puerta de la Montaña, an affiliate of the U.S.-based ministry Mountain Gateway, were sentenced last month to over 10 years in prison after a “sham” trial conducted by the government.

Mountain Gateway and Puerta de la Montaña hosted a series of evangelistic campaigns last year called “Cruzadas Buenas Nuevas Nicaragua” (Good News Crusades Nicaragua), drawing thousands of attendees. A week after the final event in December, the Nicaraguan police announced an investigation into an alleged money laundering scheme which, purportedly, used Puerta de la Montaña as a front. The 11 Puerta de la Montaña pastors were arrested and awaited trial in prison. The Nicaraguan government also accused three U.S. citizens of participating in the alleged crime.

On March 19, the Nicaraguan pastors were convicted and sentenced to between 12 and 15 years in prison, in addition to being fined $80 million each. Speaking to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch” last week, Mountain Gateway founder and President Jon Britton Hancock said that the trial was a sham. “You just said kangaroo court, you know? I’m not even sure any kangaroos showed up to this one,” Hancock quipped. He explained, “There was no defense evidence presented. There were no witnesses for the defense. They were actually convicted for a crime that they weren’t really tried for. All the witnesses were hearsay witnesses, second- and third-party witnesses on the part of the prosecution.” Hancock also reported that the attorneys representing the pastors were not only denied access to prosecution documents and documents related to the charges, but were also put on trial and sentenced to prison.

U.S. senators, led by Rick Scott (R-Fla.), have called on President Joe Biden’s administration to sanction Nicaragua due to the country’s repeated violations of religious liberty. Referring to the arrest of the Puerta de la Montaña pastors, Scott and his colleagues wrote, “These actions are the latest chilling representation of the oppression of human rights in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela under their evil regimes, and a call to action for the United States to show strength in defense of human rights, democracy and freedom in our Hemisphere.” The senators continued, “Mountain Gateway is the latest victim of the regime’s religious tyranny, and I urge you to use additional targeted sanctions and all available authorities to hold this repressive regime accountable.”

Just days after the Nicaraguan pastors were convicted, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Nicaragua’s attorney general, Carolina Morales Urbina. Brian Nelson, U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, accused Urbina - as well as President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo - of “facilitat[ing] a coordinated campaign to suppress dissent by seizing property from government political opponents without a legal basis.”

In February, nearly 60 members of Congress joined Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) in issuing a letter to Nicaragua’s ambassador to the U.S., calling for the release of the imprisoned Puerta de la Montaña pastors. “We write you today with deep concern regarding violations of religious freedom in Nicaragua,” the congressmen wrote. “Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and we urge you and the government of Nicaragua to take prompt action to address all violations of this right - in upholding international human rights standards.” In a press release, Aderholt stated that the persecution of the Nicaraguan pastors “is part of a larger pattern of human rights and religious freedom violations in Nicaragua.”

Hancock explained that while “international pressure is really good,” it’s crucial to remember that “Jesus is the only one who can move a dictator to do the right thing.”

Ortega and his government have been targeting Christians - and Catholics in particular - for years. In August of 2022, Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was arrested when police raided diocesan headquarters. He was arrested alongside several priests, seminarians, and diocesan employees, most of whom were sent to El Modelo, a prison known for torturing political dissidents. Álvarez was later subjected to a sham trial, denied legal defense, stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship, and sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison on falsified charges of treason. Ortega’s regime has arrested numerous Catholic priests, abducted Catholic and independent journalists, forcibly closed Catholic radio stations, shuttered Catholic schools and seminaries, and frozen the bank accounts of Catholic dioceses.

The regime has also expelled Catholic religious orders (such as the Daughters of Charity and the Jesuits) and seized their properties, exiled Vatican ambassador Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, and, more recently, banned public Catholic events for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. Almost 5,000 public processions were banned across Nicaragua in the days leading up to Easter Sunday, and police were sometimes stationed outside cathedrals and chapels to arrest those who dared bring their expressions of faith into the streets.

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.