Nicaragua Jails Bishop For 26 Years
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
MANAGUA (Worthy News) – The pope on Sunday condemned the long imprisonment of Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, a prominent opponent of autocratic President Daniel Ortega.
Pope Francis commented after Álvarez was sentenced to over 26 years imprisonment on what his supporters view as false charges.
Friday’s sentence came after Bishop Álvarez declined to join some 222 people detained for political reasons and then expelled to the United States.
The deportees included five priests, a deacon, and two seminarians condemned to 10 years imprisonment for “conspiring against the government.”
Pope Francis said he thinks with concern of Bishop Alvarez, “whom I love so much,” and was praying for him and those expelled or suffering “in the beloved nation of Nicaragua.”
Judge Octavio Rothschuh condemned Álvarez, 56, on charges “of undermining the state, spreading false news and resisting authority, among others.”
Rothschuh also revoked the bishop’s Nicaraguan citizenship and prohibited him from holding a government job or running for office in perpetuity, state media reported.
Álvarez, the bishop of the central Nicaraguan city of Matagalpa, had been under house arrest since August, awaiting a trial that had been due next week.
But on Thursday, the bishop was taken to prison after he refused to board the plane with the 222 other political inmates sent by Ortega to the United States. The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to receive the released prisoners.
Álvarez, an outspoken critic of Mr. Ortega, had repeatedly called for electoral reforms leading to free democratic elections in Nicaragua.
In a speech Thursday about the prisoner release, Ortega said Álvarez had refused to get on the flight to the U.S. until he met with fellow bishops. Ortega said the prelate was “out of his mind” and arrogant.
He said Álvarez considered himself head of the Nicaraguan church and had ambitions to be pope. Rights activists suggest his detention is part of a broader government on churches and individual Christians across the Central American country.
“Churches in Nicaragua that speak out against injustice and human rights violations by the government are viewed as ‘destabilizing agents,’” said Christian charity Open Doors.
“This makes them a target for hostility, which can include intimidation, harassment, monitoring, arrests, and even attacks. Roman Catholic churches are particularly susceptible to opposition,” Open Doors added.
Christians say Nicaragua’s government is incredibly “hostile to churches” that provided shelter and care for people during widespread protests against “the country’s dictatorial regime in 2018” sparked by pension reforms.
These churches are still experiencing retribution from the government, “including slander and surveillance,” noted Open Doors.
Recent elections and legislative changes have been used as “a pretext to label church leaders as terrorists and coup-plotters,” the group added. “This has increased restrictions on churches and other Christian organizations.”
Left-wing Sandinista leader Ortega made his political comeback in November 2006 elections, having led Nicaragua through revolution and a civil war before being voted out in 1990.
However, his rule has since been marked by a return to authoritarian methods, critics say.
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