By Philip Pullella
(Reuters) - The superior general of the worldwide Jesuit religious order has condemned the closure of its university in Nicaragua as part of a government attempt to "suffocate" the Catholic Church and civic institutions in the Central American country.
In a letter sent to the order's Central American leader, Father Arturo Sosa said the government's accusations against the prestigious university were "totally false" and part of a wider government programme of "slander" against those defending freedom.
The letter was sent late on Thursday and seen by Reuters.
The United States has condemned the confiscation of the assets of the Central American University (UCA) as a further erosion of democracy.
The university has said the government has accused it of being a "centre for terrorism organised by criminal groups" and that a Nicaraguan judge had ordered the confiscation of all its assets.
"We know that all of the accusations against UCA are totally false and without any foundation whatsoever," Sosa wrote in the letter to Father Jose Domingo Cuesta, the order's regional superior for Central America.
The Rome-based Sosa, who is Venezuelan, said that if Nicaragua had an impartial justice system it would "shed light on the truth" about the government's actions since 2018 anti-government protests in which more than 360 people were killed.
The government's action against UCA, other Catholic institutions and civic organisations, was aimed at "suffocating, closing or appropriating them", Sosa said.
The UCA seizure follows an intensifying crackdown by President Daniel Ortega on Nicaragua's Catholic Church, whose leaders acted as mediators in the aftermath of the 2018 protests.
Vatican officials see the oppression of the Church in Nicaragua as one of the worst since the Cold War, when many communist countries in Eastern Europe persecuted the Church.
In his letter, Sosa called for an end to "government aggression" against the 63-year-old UCA, saying it mission, like that of all Jesuit universities, is to defend justice, truth and free thought and to offer an open and democratic education.
(This story has been corrected to fix the first name of the order leader to Arturo from Antonio, in paragraph 2)
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Robert Birsel)