Bishop Rolando Jose Alvarez Lagos of Matagalpa has been sentenced to more than 26 years in prison. He was convicted of “treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news”, among other charges. The judge of the Appeals Court of Managua also announced that he would be fined and stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.
The sentence came the day after Bishop Alvarez refused to board a deportation flight to the United States, along with another 222 detained people. Among the detainees were former presidential candidates, journalists, former Sandinista guerrilla commanders, former ministers and former diplomats. There were also five priests, a deacon and two seminarians who were condemned to 10 years imprisonment on charges of conspiring against the government.
The deportees were declared “traitors to the homeland” and, like Bishop Alvarez, were stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship for “committing acts that undermine independence, sovereignty, and self-determination of the people, and for inciting violence, terrorism, and economic destabilisation.”
Bishop Alvarez, who also serves as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Estelí has been outspoken against Ortega’s regime,criticizingg the violence that left hundreds dead since 2018.
He was taken into custody by police officers on August 19, 2022, along with priests, seminarians and lay people, after being forcibly imprisoned for two weeks in the Curia for allegedly having attempted to “organize violent groups” with “the aim ofdestabilizingg the Nicaraguan State and attacking the constitutional authorities”.
He was not charged until December. In January, a court in Managua admitted the evidence and ordered Bishop Alvarez to remain under house arrest. Now he has been condemned and transferred to the Modelo high-security prison.
Relations between the bishops and the Sandinista government have been tense since 2018 when Nicaraguan authorities clamped down on protests against a series of controversial reforms to the social security system. Despite attempts to mediate the crisis, bishops were ultimately banned from the dialogue and accused by Ortega of being complicit in an alleged coup.
Since the outbreak of the crisis, the Church has been the target of several attacks and desecrations, as well as the harassment and intimidation of bishops and priests.
In 2019, Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez was forced to leave the Diocese of Managua at Pope Francis’s request after receiving several death threats. Bishop Báez wrote on Twitter: “What the Nicaraguan dictatorship is doing against my brother bishop, Bishop Rolando J Álvarez, is a crime,” he wrote, “Roland, you are not alone! We are with you, we pray for you, and we demand your freedom.”
In 2022 the government expelled the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag and 18 Missionaries of Charity. So far, at least 20 priests have found refuge abroad because of the persecution by the regime.
On February 12, Pope Francis after the Angelus said: “The news from Nicaragua has saddened me a great deal, and I cannot but remember with concern Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, whom I care about greatly, sentenced to 26 years imprisonment, and also those who have been deported to the United States. I pray for them and for all those who are suffering in that dear nation, and I ask for your prayers. We also ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to open the hearts of political leaders and all citizens sincerely seeking peace, which is born of truth, justice, freedom and love and is achieved through the patient exercise of dialogue. Let us pray together to Our Lady.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, President of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopal Council (CELAM), has also expressed his solidarity with the Church of Nicaragua “in these moments of trial and the loss of the rights of our brothers and sisters”. The message ensures fraternal communion with those who are “unjustly deprived of their freedom in Nicaragua, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez and several priests”.
The Bishops of Chile have also raised their voices, reacting in particular to the Nicaraguan court ruling against Bishop Rolando Álvarez. The Bishop of Matagalpa and Apostolic Administrator of Estelí was accused of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity and the propagation of false news through information and communication technologies, to the detriment of the Nicaraguan state and society.”
Calling the process “unjust, arbitrary, and disproportionate,” the bishops of Chile said, “We deplore and reject the situation experienced by Bishop Álvarez and the Church in Nicaragua, which violates human rights, the essential dignity of the person and religious freedom.”
Through their website, the Spanish bishops also issued a statement expressing their sorrow and concern for “the bishops of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference who are suffering persecution by the government for defending the freedom of Nicaraguans.”
The Spanish Catholic hierarchy asked, “all Catholics and all people of goodwill to pray for the peaceful resolution of this conflict and for an active commitment to peace, which has its indisputable foundation in justice.” They also called on the civil authorities to listen to the voice of the people and to release those still imprisoned for political reasons.