Detained Nicaraguan Catholic bishop, Ortega critic to face trial

  • World
  • Wednesday, 11 Jan 2023

FILE PHOTO: Rolando Alvarez, bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and Esteli and critical of the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, poses for a photo at a Catholic church in Managua, Nicaragua May 20, 2022. REUTERS/Maynor Valenzuela/File Photo

MANAGUA (Reuters) - A prominent Catholic bishop in Nicaragua who has sharply criticized authoritarian President Daniel Ortega will go to trial while under house arrest, a judge ruled on Tuesday, in the latest clamp down on dissent in the country.

Police arrested Bishop Rolando Alvarez in August, capturing him after he barricaded himself in church property for several weeks along with other priests who are now behind bars at the notorious Chipote prison.

The judge did not specify when the trial would begin.

Alvarez, bishop of the Matagalpa diocese, is accused of undermining national integrity and spreading false news.

"The judicial authority reviewed the precautionary measures (against Alvarez) and chose to maintain house arrest, allowed the submission of evidence against him and referred the case to trial," Nicaragua's judiciary announced in a statement.

Human rights organizations accuse Ortega's government of persecuting the Catholic Church. Another prominent cleric, Bishop Silvio Baez, is in exile in the United States along with a number of other priests who have fled.

The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Alvarez's case.

More than a dozen priests have been arrested by police who answer to Ortega. The president has accused Catholic leaders of trying to overthrow him in a "coup" following anti-Ortega street protests that began in 2018.

More than 360 people died during the unrest, according to tallies by rights groups, while church leaders have at times sought to mediate the conflict in the Central American country.

But as tensions have intensified, Ortega officials have expelled Catholic nuns and missionaries and shuttered more than a dozen Catholic radio and television stations.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Josie Kao)

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