Costa Rica said Saturday it has received a request from the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, to activate a process of invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Nicaragua amid alleged abuses in the country.

Nicaraguan expats living in Costa Rica hold pictures of people killed in riots or imprisoned as they take part in the “Caravan for Liberty and Justice” to protest against the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, in La Cruz, Costa Rica on December 16, 2018.

In a statement, Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry said that the Article 20 of the charter may be activated when a member state produces an alteration in the constitutional order that seriously harms democratic order, and any nation or the Secretary-general of the OAS may call for an immediate convening of the body’s Permanent Council.

Costa Rica currently occupies the presidency of the Permanent Council, with El Salvador to take over Jan. 1.

Invoking the charter could lead to sanctions against Nicaragua or its suspension from the hemispheric bloc, though it is not clear whether the required 24 of 34 member nations would support that.

Nicaragua has been mired in a political crisis since protests broke out mid-April, demanding President Daniel Ortega and his wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo leave office.

In the 8 months since the protests began, more than 320 people were killed, and independent rights groups accuse the Ortega government of violently cracking down on demonstrations and persecuting opponents.

In the past two weeks, the persecution has been aimed at the independent news media, shuttering news outlets critical of Ortega.

This month, the Ortega regime has also shut down prominent non-governmental organizations and expelled international monitors documenting alleged rights abuses.

Ortega alleges that the protests amounted to an attempted coup against him.

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