ROME – On Wednesday the Jesuit-run University of Central America (UCA) in Nicaragua issued a statement condemning a government decree confiscating all of its properties and assets and calling it a “center of terrorism,” saying the allegations are baseless and violate academic freedom.

In an Aug. 16 statement, the Central American province of the Society of Jesus, based in San Salvador, said the UCA received an official judicial order Tuesday morning notifying it that its property, buildings, and bank accounts were being seized.

In their statement, the Jesuits said the judicial order described the UCA as a “center of terrorism” and accused it of having “betrayed the trust of the Nicaraguan people” and of “having transgressed the constitutional order, the legal order, and the order that governs the institutes of higher education in the country.”

Calling the allegations “totally false and unfounded,” the Jesuits said the confiscation of UCA by the Nicaraguan government is “the price to pay for a more just society, protecting life, truth, and the freedom of the Nicaraguan people.”

The university, which served as a hub for 2018 mass protests against the regime of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, was established 63 years ago and is one of Nicaragua’s most highly regarded colleges.

It contains two large campuses featuring five auditoriums, several engineering labs, a business innovation center, an expansive library with texts in English and in Spanish, as well as a molecular biology center and facilities for 11 different sports.

UCA is also home to the Institute of History of Nicaragua and Central America, widely considered to be the country’s primary documentation and historical center, containing its own book and newspaper libraries, as well as a vast photo archive.

In their statement, the Jesuits noted that the UCA has long received national and international recognition for its educational and research work and said the “governmental aggression” against the university is not “an isolated act.”

The confiscation of the university “is part of a series of unjustified attacks against the Nicaraguan population and other educational and social institutions of civil society that are generating a climate of violence and insecurity and exacerbating the country’s sociopolitical crisis,” they said.

Since anti-government protests sparking the beginning of the current crisis first erupted in April 2018, UCA “has been an object of constant siege, harassment, and hostility on the part of Nicaraguan governmental institutions” over its stance in favor of those “being repressed by state and parapolice forces,” the Jesuits said.

This harassment and hostility, they said, has come in various forms, including the non-extension of necessary operational certificates by the Ministry of the Interior, the National Council of Evaluation and Accreditation, and the National Council of Universities.

Being removed from the National Council of Universities, the Jesuits said, excluded UCA from the member universities which benefit from a 6 percent allocation of funds destined to support higher education.

In their fiery statement, the Jesuits said the confiscation of UCA was “about a government policy that is systematically violating human rights and appears to be aimed at consolidating a totalitarian state.”

“It is necessary and essential that our university be allowed to exercise its inalienable right to legitimate defense against [the] accusations,” they said, saying UCA and the Jesuits who live in Nicaragua have the “full support” of the province of Central America.

The Jesuits said they hold the Nicaraguan government accountable for any and all damages against the university’s student body as well as its teaching and administrative staff, and other workers.

They said they also held the government responsible for the “cultural patrimony” of Nicaragua, saying any harm done in this regard stems from “an unjustified accusation.”

Nicaragua’s decision to confiscate UCA is the latest in a lengthy series of aggressive actions taken against the Catholic Church and other voices of opposition in the country over its opposition to the Ortega’s iron grip on power and his government’s suppression of political opponents.

Since December 2021, at least 26 universities in Nicaragua have been closed and their assets seized by the Ortega regime, seven of which were foreign institutions.

In April the Vatican closed its embassy in Nicaragua following the government’s decision to sever diplomatic relations. Last year, two orders of nuns, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, were expelled.

Last August Nicaraguan authorities arrested Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who had been among the Church’s most outspoken critics of the Ortega regime, announcing a hunger strike in May 2022 to protest police harassment.

Álvarez was arrested by government agents Aug. 4, 2022, and after spending six months under house arrest, he refused to join a group of over 200 political prisoners released into U.S. and was charged with treason and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Since then, the international community has been mounting pressure on Nicaragua to secure Álvarez’s release, with Pope Francis at one point asking Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to intervene.

In addition to Catholic orders and institutions, Nicaragua has also targeted other entities, so far outlawing or shutting down more than 3,000 civic groups and NGOs.

The government ordered the Red Cross to cease operations in May, accusing the organization of “attacks on peace and stability” during the 2018 demonstrations, with the Red Cross pushing back, saying it had simply treated injured protesters.

In June, the government confiscated properties belonging to 222 opposition figures who were exiled to the U.S. in February. Among those on board the flight to the U.S. were seven presidential candidates who were barred from running in the Nicaragua’s 2021 election, as well as several lawyers, journalists, rights activists, and former members of the Sandinista guerrilla movement.

Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled into exile since the Orgeta regime’s violent crackdown on the 2018 protests, with Ortega saying the demonstrations were an attempted coup with foreign backing.

Closing their statement, the Jesuits of Central America made three requests of the Nicaraguan government, the first of which was that “the drastic, unexpected, and unjust measure adopted by the judicial body be immediately reversed and corrected.”

They also asked that “the growing governmental aggression against the university and its members cease,” and that “a rational solution is sought in which truth, justice, dialogue, and the defense of academic freedom prevail.”

“We reiterate the commitment of the Society of Jesus with the Nicaraguan people in favor of an inclusive quality education, inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” they said and thanked the entire UCA community for their “courage, surrender and commitment.”

The Jesuits also acknowledged the many expressions of solidarity they have received in the wake of “the unjust situation” that UCA is enduring.

“God is the one who has the final word in history, and he will also have it on Nicaragua,” they said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen