Nicaragua forces Catholic bishop to stay under house arrest

nicaragua bishop Rolando José Álvarez Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, was placed under house arrest by the police of Daniel Ortega's regime in early August 2022. | Photo credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

A Nicaraguan court is ordering a Catholic bishop to remain under house arrest on charges of “conspiracy” and “spreading false news,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday, citing a government media site.

According to the website, El 19 Digital, the court also charged Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa with “damaging the Nicaraguan government and society.” 

His first hearing is slated for Jan. 10.

Álvarez was first placed under house arrest in August. Riot police prevented the bishop — along with priests, seminarians, and a layman — from leaving the chancery in Matagalpa from Aug. 4 to Aug. 19. At that point, the police of the Nicaraguan dictatorship, led by President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, abducted Álvarez and took him to Managua, the country’s capital, where he remains.

Previously, according to local media, the charges against Álvarez were unknown.

In September, the European Parliament approved a resolution by a vote of 538 to 16 demanding the immediate release of the bishop.

The night the bishop was taken into custody, other priests, seminarians, and a layman also were arrested and placed in the El Chipote prison, known for torturing opponents of the regime.

Those imprisoned, from the Diocese of Matagalpa, are Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Diaz, Sadiel Eugarrios, and Raúl González; seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas. 

Another priest who is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez of the Diocese of Siuna.

Álvarez, the AP reported Wednesday, has been an important religious voice in discussions of Nicaragua’s future since 2018, when a series of protests against Ortega’s government resulted in a crackdown on opponents.

The news outlet also reported that a warrant was issued for a priest, Father Uriel Vallejos, who has reportedly fled the country.

The court’s move comes after Ortega’s administration expelled religious sisters from the Sisters of Charity and the papal nuncio, the Vatican’s representative in Nicaragua. 

In August, Pope Francis called for “peaceful coexistence” between people and institutions in Nicaragua. A month later, Ortega verbally attacked the pontiff and said that the Catholic Church is “the perfect dictatorship” during a public event in Managua.

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