Nicaragua seizes assets of NGOs critical of President Ortega

MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan authorities on Friday said they had seized the assets of 10 blacklisted organizations, dealing another blow to civil society after months of protests against President Daniel Ortega that were met with a heavy-handed crackdown.

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Nicaraguan lawmakers allied with Ortega banned the 10 non-governmental organizations critical of the government from legal status earlier in the week, blocking them from operating.

The interior ministry said in a statement on Friday their assets will be put into a “fund for the victims of terrorism,” without elaborating.

The government had described the people who took part in mass demonstrations against Ortega over some eight months, many of which grew violent, as “terrorists.”

One group critical of Ortega, the prominent Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, or Cenidh, said on Friday that police had taken over its headquarters and that of an affiliated site.

Cenidh estimates that this year’s protests left at least 322 people dead and more than 500 people in jail.

Prominent journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the son of former President Violeta Chamorro, said police stormed his offices on Friday after making an initial raid the night before.

Chamorro, a frequent critic of Ortega, runs the digital newspaper Confidencial and hosts television news programs.

He blamed the Thursday raid, when he said police seized his equipment, on increasingly authoritarian efforts to purge the country of domestic dissent.

“This was an absurd attack on free expression,” Chamorro told Reuters.

Police seized computers and other equipment after breaking open door locks purportedly seeking to enter the offices of Cinco, a separate organization run by Chamorro that was ordered closed by lawmakers loyal to Ortega, he said.

Cinco, described on its website as a research organization focused on communications, culture, democracy and public opinion, had moved to another location years ago, but the police were not deterred, Chamorro said.

Earlier in the week, Nicaragua’s telecommunications regulator ordered a satellite television network to remove from its offerings the opposition television news channel 100% Noticias.

Ortega’s opponents accuse the veteran leftist of attempting to cement an authoritarian family dynasty along with his wife, Rosario Murillo, who he chose to be his vice president.

Chamorro is the son of slain journalist and businessman Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, who opposed right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza in the late 1970s while at the helm of La Prensa newspaper. The younger Chamorro won an award from the Columbia Journalism School in 2010 for his watchdog coverage of Nicaragua.

Ortega was also a fierce opponent of Somoza but many of his critics today accuse him of employing similar tactics of repression.

Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by David Alire Garcia and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Bill Trott and Sam Holmes