Nicaragua's government-controlled parliament has banned 25 non-governmental organizations operating in the country.

The banned NGOs include the Nicaraguan Association of Journalists, the environmental protection organization Centro Humboldt and the Germany-based Christian peace service EIRENE.

According to a report provided by the Interior Ministry, the organizations concerned have not presented their financial statements "in accordance with the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Act".

Accused of destabilization, the regime of ruler Daniel Ortega has had its critics switched off for years.

Since December 2018, 112 NGOs have been shut down in Nicaragua.

In an interview with the FAZ, EIRENE Managing Director Anthea Bethge talks about the decision and the situation in Nicaragua.

Tjerk Bruhwiller

Correspondent for Latin America based in São Paulo.

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Ms. Bethge, what does the latest parliamentary decision mean for EIRENE?

The legal entity EIRENE Nicaragua was given 72 hours Thursday to complete the organization.

This is like being struck out of the register of associations in Germany – only much more time-consuming for the organization concerned.

We will no longer be a legal entity, cannot conclude contracts on site or hire or pay employees.

But the work goes on as long as the partner organizations and their employees can continue to work.

What will be missing is that EIRENE itself can open up safe spaces for dialogue, in which people can exchange ideas.

Together with our partners, we had hoped that this area of ​​action would remain open to civil society.

With the waves of closures, which not only affect us, a lot will change.

But the peace service will not stop.

What projects is EIRENE pursuing in Nicaragua?

An important project is dedicated to empowering women in rural areas.

Rural women are trained to be beekeepers.

They produce and sell a very high quality honey in women's cooperatives.

But it doesn't have to be honey.

It's about women's rights and income, but also about women's participation in society.

Women's rights groups in particular play a special role in many societies in times of crisis.

They are particularly courageous, constructive and resilient.

The government's repression of its critics has increased sharply in recent years.

How has this changed your work in Nicaragua?

After all, we are a peace service, and peace is made in conflict-ridden situations.

We also work in Mali, Burundi and other crisis areas.

That's our job, we're well prepared for situations like this.

We have developed new projects and new partnerships in recent years, always with the necessary caution and with very committed local people.

If we hadn't been deprived of the legal entity, we would have continued the programs to the normal extent - also in constructive dialogue with the local authorities, which we naturally involve in our project plans.

Peace service is not against someone, it is with someone.

Was there any intimidation from the government?

Intimidation is not the right term.

There are countries where we receive visits from armed men.

There was nothing like that in Nicaragua.

In the case of Nicaragua, it is rather a matter of very laborious bureaucratic processes that we cannot fully grasp.

We have submitted our documentation multiple times to keep our registration.

But the competent authority did not want to accept the documents.

Now we're being accused of violating the new Financial Transparency Act.

From our perspective, the government does not seem to want to encourage the registration of "foreign agents".

How do you assess the political situation and the human rights situation in Nicaragua?

Civil society organizations are being banned one by one.

This is not a good sign for a vibrant, emerging state.

And that not only applies to those organizations that work in sensitive areas, but also to charitable organizations that work in the spirit of Christian charity.

The population is divided, many feel insecure.

It is our task as a peace service to explore constructive, non-violent ways.

It's only going to get a lot harder.

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