US missionary group pledges to appeal the convictions of 11 members in Nicaragua

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S.-based missionary group Mountain Gateway said Friday it will file appeals against the convictions of 11 members of the group who were jailed by Nicaragua in December on money laundering charges.

The 11 are Nicaraguans who worked with the Texas-based group.

The government of President Daniel Ortega has often used charges of money laundering to expel or outlaw hundreds of faith groups and non-governmental organizations in Nicaragua.

The group’s leader, Jon Britton Hancock, said the 11 faced between 12 and 15 years in prison. Hancock and two other Americans also faced charges, but were not in Nicaragua at the time the others were arrested. The group said it complied with all government rules to operate in Nicaragua.

In December, Mountain Gateway said it was “saddened to hear that our registration as a ministry in Nicaragua has been canceled. In response to the allegations of money laundering, Mountain Gateway possesses documentation demonstrating that all funding has been managed appropriately.”

In 2023, Nicaragua’s government declared the Jesuit religious order illegal and ordered the confiscation of all its property. It confiscated the Jesuit-run University of Central America in Nicaragua, arguing it was a “center of terrorism.”

Since December 2021, at least 26 Nicaraguan universities have been closed and their assets seized by order of the Ortega government with a similar procedure. Seven of those were foreign institutions.

In April, the Vatican closed its embassy in Nicaragua after the Ortega’s government proposed suspending diplomatic relations.

Two congregations of nuns, including from the Missionaries of Charity order founded by Mother Teresa, were expelled from Nicaragua last year.

The expulsions, closures and confiscations have not just targeted the church. Nicaragua has outlawed or closed more than 3,000 civic groups and non-governmental organizations.

In May, the government ordered the Nicaraguan Red Cross shut down, accusing it of “attacks on peace and stability” during anti-government demonstrations in 2018. The local Red Cross says it just helped treat injured protesters during the protests.