The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) said Sunday it is closing its offices following "alarming" threats to its staff over its high-profile reporting on the violent repression of anti-government protests.
The group said it had received "alarming information" of plans to persecute its workers by charging them with fabricated crimes. It said it had received a stream of death threats by telephone and that its Managua offices had effectively been under siege by armed groups.
AFP was unable to confirm media reports that ANPDH head Alvaro Leiva had been forced to flee the country following death threats.
But Inter-American Commission on Human Rights executive secretary Paulo Abrao reported on Twitter he had, by chance, met Leiva and his team at a Honduras airport "in transit to Costa Rica."
"I confess I never imagined witnessing a self-exile in its exact moment. Crying, they said despite the cost, it was worth defending human rights in Nicaragua," he wrote.
ANPDH has actively reported on what it said were starkly repressive measures by the Daniel Ortega government against protesters, regularly updating a toll of those killed, wounded or missing.
An ANPDH statement said it was closing its offices temporarily "in order to guarantee the safety and physical integrity" of its staff. The group will continue to collect complaints filed electronically.
By the association's latest count, the violence surrounding the protests has left 448 people dead, most of them protesters.
That number is far greater than the 317 deaths estimated last week by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. But the IACHR has said the Nicaraguan state is guilty of "repression and criminalization of demonstrators" resulting in "gross human rights violations."
Together with the Catholic Church in Nicaragua -- which has tried to mediate between the government and protesters -- the ANPDH helped arrange the release of hundreds of dissidents who had been detained illegally.
It estimates some 600 people have disappeared since protests began in mid-April.
Ortega has accused his political opponents and human rights groups of being part of a "coup-minded" conspiracy financed by the United States.
The US in turn has warned Nicaragua to halt the violence, which began amid protests over social-security cutbacks but quickly drew energy from widespread anger over what protesters say is the corrupt and dictatorial Ortega leadership.
The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, headed by Alvaro Leiva (seen here in a July 3 file photo), is closing its Managua offices amid what it called 'alarming' threats