Nicaraguan Catholic bishop sentenced to decades in prison, citizenship stripped

  • World
  • Saturday, 11 Feb 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 where he is taking refuge alleging he had been targeted by the police, in Managua, Nicaragua May 20, 2022. REUTERS/Maynor Valenzuela

MANAGUA (Reuters) -A Nicaraguan court sentenced Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez to more than 26 years in prison on Friday, a day after the cleric and critic of President Daniel Ortega declined to be expelled to the United States as part of a prisoner release.

Alvarez, bishop of the Matagalpa diocese, was convicted of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news, among other charges.

During Friday's court hearing it was also announced that he would be fined and stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.

Originally scheduled for late March, the sentencing of the bishop, widely known by the Catholic honorific monsignor, was sped up without explanation.

"The Nicaraguan dictatorship's hatred of Mons. Rolando Alvarez is irrational and out of control," Silvio Baez, a senior Nicaraguan bishop exiled in Miami, wrote on Twitter after the sentence.

Praising Alvarez's "moral high ground," Baez predicted Alvarez will eventually be freed.

Alvarez was included in the surprise political prisoner release covering more than 200 people announced by Ortega's government Thursday, but Alvarez would not board the plane destined for a Washington, D.C.-area airport.

In televised remarks later Thursday, Ortega derided the released prisoners as criminal mercenaries for foreign powers who sought to undermine national sovereignty, and said Alvarez had been returned to jail.

Last August, Ortega's police arrested Alvarez after dislodging him from the church property where he, four other priests and two seminarians from his diocese had barricaded themselves.

A cameraman for a Catholic television channel was also arrested with them.

This month, seven of the men were sentenced to 10-year prison terms on charges of treason and spreading false news. But all of them boarded the flight to Washington on Thursday.

Ortega has accused Catholic leaders of attempting to overthrow him when some served as mediators with protest groups after protests that killed about 300 people erupted in 2018.

Since then, the government of the former Cold War-era Marxist rebel has expelled Catholic nuns and missionaries and closed Catholic radio and television stations.

After Alvarez's arrest in August, Pope Francis called for "open and sincere" dialogue to resolve the conflict in Nicaragua. He said he was following the situation "with worry and pain."

The comments marked Francis' only remarks in the aftermath of the 2018 protests, and he did not specifically mention Alvarez by name.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Anthony Esposito and Gerry Doyle)

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