Nicaraguan judge sentences Catholic bishop to 26 years


A Nicaraguan judge sentenced Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez to 26 years in prison Friday, one day after he refused to get on a flight to the United States with 222 other prisoners.

The sentence handed down by Octavio Ernesto Rothschuh, chief magistrate of the Managua appeals court, is the longest given to any of the opposition figures and critics of the government of President Daniel Ortega over the last couple of years.

Álvarez was arrested in August along with several other priests and lay people. When Ortega ordered the mass release of prisoners including political leaders, priests, students and activists and had some of them put on a flight to Washington Thursday, Alvarez refused to board without being able to consult with other bishops, Ortega said. Nicaraguas president called it “an absurd thing”.

The president said Álvarez, who had been held under house arrest, was then taken to the nearby Modelo prison.


Álvarez had been one of the most outspoken religious figures still in Nicaragua as Ortega intensified his repression of the opposition.

According to a government statement published in official outlets, his sentence of 26 years and four months was for undermining the government, spreading false information, obstruction of functions and disobedience. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.

Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa about 130 kilometres north of Managua, has been a key religious voice in discussions of Nicaraguas future since 2018, when a wave of protests against Ortegas government led to a sweeping crackdown on opponents.

“We hope there would be a series of electoral reforms, structural changes to the electoral authority free, just and transparent elections, international observation without conditions,” Álvarez said a month after the protests broke out. “Effectively the democratization of the country.” Last summer, the government seized several radio stations owned by the diocese. At the time, it appeared Ortegas administration wanted to silence critical voices ahead of municipal elections.

Before the sentence was announced Friday, Antonio Garrastazu, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Republican Institute in Washington, spoke of the importance of Álvarezs decision to stay in Nicaragua.

After expelling nearly all of his most vocal critics, Ortega found himself stuck with Álvarez.

“The Catholic Church, I think, is one of the main institutions that the Ortega regime really, really fears,” said Garrastazu. “The Catholic Church are really the ones that can actually change the hearts and minds of the people.”

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