St. Louis, Mo., Sep 15, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).
A Christian legal group has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who is serving a prison sentence under the regime of President Daniel Ortega for criticizing the dictatorship’s human rights violations.
Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, began serving a 26-year, four-month prison term in February, charged with being a “traitor to the homeland.”
The regime’s police trapped him in his chancery for more than two weeks in August 2022 and entered by force in the middle of the night to take him to Managua and hold him under house arrest.
Álvarez later refused to leave the country with 222 other political prisoners who were being deported by the dictatorship to the United States, including four priests, a deacon, and two seminarians.
Álvarez’s sentence was received with great concern by Pope Francis, who compared Ortega’s Nicaragua to Nazi Germany. As far as is known, Álvarez is being held in La Modelo prison, reportedly without contact with his family or access to legal advice.
ADF International announced the filing of its petition Sept. 14, saying there are “no effective avenues for legal recourse available in Nicaragua” under Ortega, who has effectively ruled the country as a dictator for years.
“Those concerned with basic human rights should be outraged by the crisis endured by people of faith in Nicaragua,” said Kristina Hjelkrem, legal counsel for Latin America for ADF International and lead lawyer on Álvarez’s case.
“For simply fulfilling his duties as a bishop and preaching the teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church, Bishop Álvarez has been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. This is a clear violation of not only his human right to freedom of expression but also to profess his faith and share his beliefs as a pastor. ADF International is honored to bring this crucial case to the commission, and we look forward to securing justice for Bishop Álvarez, and hopefully, an end to religious persecution in Nicaragua. No one should be persecuted or imprisoned for sharing their faith.”
ADF says Álvarez’s charges were based on homilies he had delivered as a result of what he considered a “religious duty to preach about governmental human rights violations.” He was convicted after a trial that he did not know was taking place, and at which he, therefore, could not testify nor cross-examine witnesses.
The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States, whose mission is to promote and protect human rights, according to its website. The IACHR and Inter-American Court of Human Rights have previously condemned his imprisonment and urged Nicaragua to immediately release Bishop Álvarez and to adopt the necessary measures to effectively protect his life, health, and personal integrity. Ortega’s government has so far ignored the commission.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua continues to experience a harsh reality marked by persecution, imprisonment, and exile, a history that goes back several decades but which has intensified in recent years with the actions of the left-wing dictatorship of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, since Ortega came to power in 2007 for a second time.
The Ortega dictatorship has not hesitated to expel nuns, shut down Catholic media outlets, take over ecclesiastical institutions and buildings, seize money supporting the works of the Church, and send priests and bishops to prison or into exile.
In May 2022, the regime-controlled National Assembly published a report accusing bishops and priests of being involved in an attempted coup and called for the prosecution of religious leaders who supported the 2018 anti-government marches and demanded the confiscation of Church property.
A few months later, the regime forced the Missionaries of Charity to leave Nicaragua after the National Assembly dissolved 101 nongovernmental organizations, including that of Mother Teresa’s sisters and other Catholic institutions, with more departing later.
A report by researcher and lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, updated in March of this year, states that in Nicaragua at least one bishop (Silvio Báez), 13 priests, and two deacons have been forced into exile. Molina reports that Nicaraguan Catholics can participate in Masses and celebrate sacraments such as baptisms and marriages, “but they are always monitored.” For Holy Week 2023, “more than 3,176 processions were prohibited” in the streets and had to be held inside the churches.
Earlier this month, Father Osman José Amador Guillén was allegedly subjected to an arbitrary arrest without any legal justification for requesting prayers for Álvarez.
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