- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2024

Nicaraguan authorities have sentenced 11 pastors working with an evangelical group to 12-15 years in prison and fined each $80 million on money laundering charges for which the government could produce no evidence.

The government’s aim is to drive the group out of the Central American nation, said Britt Hancock, head of Mountain Gateway Order, the independent ministry that “planted” the Puerta de la Montaña in Nicaragua in 2015.

“As an official, registered ministry in Nicaragua, they canceled our registration and they seized all of our assets,” Mr. Hancock said in an interview. “They’ve frozen our bank accounts there. … Mountain Gateway in Nicaragua as an organization? Well, that’s over.”

But the “work of the Kingdom of God is not over, the spiritual side of things will continue, but as an organization, we can’t be there,” Mr. Hancock added.

The government’s actions against Mountain Gateway came five weeks after the last of eight evangelistic rallies in Nicaragua that were staged with the government’s assistance.

The national police announced that the organization was being investigated for money laundering and organized crime and that the 11 local pastors were under arrest.

Mr. Hancock said he, his wife and their adult son are under “red notices” with Interpol, which means they could be arrested should they set foot in Mexico, where Mountain Gateway also operates. He said other Latin American countries have said they would arrest the three and extradite them to Nicaragua.

“We can’t go to Latin America, we can’t go to Mexico and that’s problematic for us because we have a big ministry footprint” in Mexico, Mr. Hancock said.

“No one is safe from religious persecution in Nicaragua, and it is devastating to see the sham charges, trial and conviction of these pastors who were simply sharing their faith with and serving the citizens of Nicaragua,” Kristina Hjelkrem, legal counsel for ADF International, which represents Mountain Gateway Order, said in a statement.

Ms. Hjelkrem told The Washington Times that ADF International is appealing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and human rights experts at the United Nations for assistance with the case.

Nicaragua quit the Organization of American States, which monitors governments in the hemisphere, in November 2023.

The actions of the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, against the Protestant group come on the heels of long-term persecution of the Catholic Church.

In January, the Ortega government released Bishop Rolando Álvarez and 18 clergy from prison and gave them to Vatican authorities. The bishop, who faced a 26-year prison sentence for alleged conspiracy, is now in Rome.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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