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Roman Catholic bishop in Nicaragua sentenced to 26 years for treason

14 February 2023


The Bishop of Matagalpa, the Rt Revd Rolando Álvarez, pictured in May 2022

The Bishop of Matagalpa, the Rt Revd Rolando Álvarez, pictured in May 2022

A NICARAGUAN bishop, the Rt Revd Rolando Álvarez, was sentenced to 26 years in prison for treason last Friday, as the regime of the President, Daniel Ortega, continues its crackdown on religious groups.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Matagalpa, Bishop Álvarez was convicted on charges of treason, undermining national integrity, and spreading false information, and in addition to a lengthy jail sentence will be fined and stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship, according to a report by Reuters.

On Sunday, Pope Francis appealed to political leaders in Nicaragua to engage in dialogue and seek peace, and spoke of his love for the imprisoned prelate.

Bishop Álvarez’s sentence had originally been expected on 15 February, and it remains unclear why it was brought forward by almost a month. The day before his sentence was announced, the Bishop reportedly refused a deal that would have meant his inclusion in a group of prisoners that President Ortega has agreed to release to the United States.

Earlier this month, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that four Roman Catholic priests, along with two seminarians and a church cameraman, had been prosecuted for sedition (News, 3 February). The men had previously been under house arrest with Bishop Álvarez in a church compound, before it was raided by police on 19 August last year (News, 26 August 2022).

Vatican News reported that the men were included in the group of prisoners being deported to the US, described as “traitors of the homeland” by the President.

Under President Ortega’s rule, religious groups in Nicaragua have faced increasing persecution: outdoor acts of worship have been banned, missionary organisations proscribed, and religious broadcasters shut down (News, 6 January 2023).

The head of advocacy for CSW, Anna-Lee Stangl, said: “Nicaragua is in a critical state as the government follows the Cuban model of attempting to eliminate or co-opt independent civil society.”

On Thursday of last week, the New York Times reported that 222 political prisoners — including journalists and student activists — had been released, and would receive “humanitarian parole” in the US for two years.

The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said that the release of prisoners “marks a constructive step toward addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue”.

Bishop Álvarez was reportedly one of only two prisoners who refused the opportunity to leave the country, and was praised for his decision by the Bishop of Managua, the Rt Revd Silvio José Báez, who lives in exile in the US after being accused of plotting a coup against President Ortega in 2018.

On Saturday, Bishop Báez posted a photograph of himself and Bishop Álvarez on Twitter, with a passage from St Matthew’s Gospel: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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