MEXICO CITY -- A United Nations report released Wednesday on four months of unrest in Nicaragua describes a comprehensive effort of repression by the government that extends from the streets to the courts.
The report by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on the government of President Daniel Ortega to immediately halt the persecution of protesters and disarm the masked civilians who have been responsible for many of the killings and arbitrary detentions.
More than 300 people have been killed in violence since mid-April in this Central American nation. Neighboring Costa Rica has been flooded with thousands of requests for asylum by people fleeing Nicaragua.
The report describes illegal arrests, torture and closed trials. Doctors, professors and judges who have spoken out or protested have been dismissed from their jobs to discourage people from participating in or supporting the protests.
"The level of persecution is such that many of those who have participated in the protests, defended the rights of the protesters, or simply expressed dissenting opinion, have been forced to hide, have left Nicaragua or are trying to do so," according to the U.N. report.
Ortega's government dismissed the report as baseless and relying on anti-government media accounts. It denied accusations of excessive use of force against protesters.
"The report is biased and slanted with subjective assertions," the government said in a statement, which also noted that it included no mention of the attempted coup d'etat alleged by Ortega.
It said the U.N. had not been invited to evaluate the human-rights situation, but rather to accompany the verification commission established as part of the national dialogue. It accused the U.N. of overstepping its authority and violating Nicaragua's sovereignty.
In mid-April, retirees and students marched to protest cuts to Nicaragua's social security benefits decreed by Ortega. They were met with violence from young government supporters and riot police. The president eventually retracted the changes, but protests quickly evolved into calls for him to step down.
There was a short-lived dialogue between the government and opponents, but Ortega accused the Roman Catholic bishops mediating the talks of being part of a coup conspiracy and talks have not resumed. Ortega has blamed international agents and internal enemies of conspiring to overthrow his government. He has said he will not step down before his term ends in 2021.