The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, in Nicaragua has set up the red and black flags of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the regime’s political party, in front of the cathedral in Matagalpa.

The bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, was sentenced Feb. 10 to 26 years and four months prison, charged with treason to the homeland.

Ortega has been in power since 2007. The Sandinistas are a socialist political party.

In a statement to EWTN News, Martha Patricia Molina, a researcher and the author of the report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”, charged that “obviously this is one more provocation from the Sandinista dictatorship against the Nicaraguan Catholic Church.”

“We know that the bishop of Matagalpa, who is the head of this diocese that has been seriously affected, is being held captive in one of the Nicaraguan jails, where methods of torture are practiced, both physical and psychological, and so the dictatorship continues to persecute and commit attacks against this diocese in order to weaken it,” she continued.

“Apart from these flags that they have set up, they have prohibited a procession that was going to take place for the Divine Child, which has been attended by more than 20,000 faithful Catholics,” the researcher added.

For Molina, the act of placing the flags could be understood as a way to “lower the morale of the clergy who are always praying for their bishop, who is being held captive at this time.”

“Since March we haven’t known anything about his physical and also his mental health, because no one who is in prison is going to be doing well,” she noted.

On March 25, the regime presented Álvarez to the media having lunch with his brother, Manuel, and Manuel’s wife, Vilma, in an almost country club setting at the Modelo prison, a “staged performance” by the dictatorship, said the exiled auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Báez, who described the event as “disgusting and cynical.”

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That was the last time Álvarez has been seen.

Molina has repeatedly called on the international community to intervene to “end the persecution of the Catholic Church” and to obtain “the release of Bishop Álvarez and three other priests who are also arbitrarily imprisoned.”

Less than a week ago, three priests were arrested by the dictatorship: Jaime Iván Montesinos Sauceda, Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides, and Leonardo Guevara Gutiérrez, the pastor of the cathedral in Estelí.

Besides being the bishop of Matagalpa, Álvarez is also the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Estelí.

Molina also denounced the fact that the faithful cannot say the rosary in public either but only in churches, and if they do, they cannot mention Álvarez’s name. “Whoever dares to do so immediately goes to jail,” she said.

After pointing out that the dictatorship does not respect the right to religious freedom, which is enshrined in the Nicaraguan constitution, Molina urged the international community not to finance the Ortega dictatorship.

“Countries, unilaterally or jointly, could take more effective actions. It’s not only a matter of condemning [the regime] in democratic and political venues such as the OAS [Organization of American States] and the U.N., but that they should stop financing the dictatorship [since] this money is being used to continue the repression,” she pointed out.

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“Now most of the priests are under 24-hour surveillance, either by the police or by the paramilitaries, and all this means that the dictatorship is investing in this repression and persecution against the Catholic Church,” Molina lamented.

“It’s of no use for the international community to speak and say that Ortega is illegal and illegitimate if on the other hand the next day they are giving him financing, which is money that we Nicaraguans are going to have to pay [the price for] or rather that we are paying [the price for] to be persecuted and criminalized.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.