On Jun. 9, the Nicaraguan regime the legal status of Radio María, a major Catholic radio station in the Central American country, along with other Evangelical churches and civic associations.

A decree issued by the administration of President Daniel Ortega abolished the legal status of 12 nonprofit organizations that allegedly failed to present to the government their financial reports for up to 26 years, as well as information about their directors.

The first entity on the list is Radio María Nicaragua, legally established in the country since 2000. The document affirmed that the radio station failed to provide its financial information concerning the period between 2019-2023 to the government. The tenure of the station’s board of directors has supposedly expired in Nov. of 2021.

The other 11 terminated organizations include Asociación Iglesia Cristiana Principe de Paz Casa de Oración (Association of the Christian Church Prince of Peace House of Prayer), Asociación de Iglesias Evangélicas de Nicaragua Fuente de Jacob (Association of Evangelical Churches of Nicaragua Fountain of Jacob), Asociación Ministerio Apostólico Profético Fuego Pentecostés (Association of the Prophetic Apostolic Ministry Pentecostal Fire), and entities of economic or civic nature.

The measure establishes that all such organizations will lose their legal status, and their properties and goods will be transferred to the State. The document was signed by Minister of Interior María Amelia Coronel Kinloch, once called by the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa the “minister of confiscations.”

The announcement came only one day after the radio station began to air speeches of first lady and vice president Rosario Murillo.

Radio María had been under pressure from the regime at least since April, when one of its directors informed that the station’s bank accounts had been blocked. On June 26, the radio announced that it would begin to broadcast its shows only between 5 AM and 7 PM. The night shows would only be transmitted through the internet. The change was informed as a temporary measure.

Radio María is part of an international network that was founded in the Diocese of Milan, Italy, in 1983. In 1990, it became a nation-wide radio broadcaster in Italy. Eight years later, the World Family of Radio Maria was formed.

According to the network’s website, it’s now present in 84 nations in the five continents and comprehends 129 broadcasting stations. Twenty-five of them are in the Americas. The World Family of Radio Maria is not directly connected to any ecclesiastical body and is not directly funded by the Church, but by its listeners.

In Nicaragua, it began as an AM radio station. In 2006, it finally obtained two FM concessions, one in Managua and the other in León, Chinandega and Rivas. Radio María’s Nicaraguan website affirms that its shows are mostly produced by volunteers, although the station also has a permanent team of workers.

It’s not clear yet if the regime will immediately close Radio María, said Álvaro Leiva Sánchez, leader of the Nicaraguan Association for the Defense of Human Rights (known by the Spanish acronym ANPDH) from exile in Costa Rica.

“The dictatorship is so rooted now in Nicaragua that with or without a legal status, any radio station can be invaded and closed at any moment,” he told Crux.

Leiva Sánchez said that the right to religious freedom and association has been virtually suppressed in the country by Ortega’s regime, “and any voice, religious or lay, that disturbs in any sense the government will fatally be silenced.”

“Unfortunately, the Nicaraguan clergy has not the strength to have an impact on society as it used to have in the past. It’s not in the position to defend the rights of Nicaraguans anymore,” Leiva Sánchez said.

In his opinion, the Vatican has been failing to act in defense of Nicaragua’s Church in the face of “a permanent socio-political and humanitarian crisis generated by a repressive regime.”

“The Nicaraguan priests were abandoned,” he added.

Last week, a priest of Indigenous origin who was in the United States for missionary work was prevented by the regime from returning to Nicaragua. Father Rodolfo French Naar received a message from the airline telling him that the Nicaraguan immigration authorities hadn’t allowed him to get into the country.

According to lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan activist exiled in the U.S. who has been monitoring Ortega’s attacks on the Church, the number of priests persecuted by Ortega’s regime has been continuously increasing. She told the press that she recently learned that 12 priests either had to escape from Nicaragua to save their lives or were prevented from returning to the country after traveling abroad.

“Unfortunately, nothing indicates to us that something will change in the near future,” Leiva Sánchez said.