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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Nicaraguan Police Accuse Bishop Critical of Government of “Inciting Hatred”

Nicaraguan police on Friday accused the Diocese of Matagalpa, led by Bishop Rolando Alvarez, besieged in the curia by security forces for two days, of “inciting hatred” to destabilize the country and announced the opening of an investigation against what it considered “criminal acts”.

“The high authorities of the Catholic Church, Diocese of Matagalpa, headed by Bishop Monsignor Jose Rolando Alvarez, (..) are trying to organize violent groups and inciting them to execute acts of hatred against” the government, the police said in a statement. 

Alvarez, a critic of the government of Daniel Ortega, denounced Friday that the police are holding the episcopal curia of Matagalpa, where he lives, in northern Nicaragua, under siege for the second consecutive day.

“The road in front of our curia is closed and blocked by the National Police. The main door as well as the exit garage is also blocked by the riot police”, informed the prelate from inside the curia, during a mass transmitted by Facebook.

The police, for their part, affirmed that they are using “their status as religious leaders” and the “media and social networks” to create “anxiety”.

They provoke “an atmosphere of anxiety and disorder, disturbing peace and harmony in the community with the purpose of destabilizing the State of Nicaragua and attacking the constitutional authorities,” it noted.

The police announced that it initiated “an investigation process with the purpose of determining the criminal responsibility of the persons involved in the commission of these criminal acts”, and that it has reported the facts to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Judiciary.

Alvarez, a member of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN), said that he remains within the curia along with six priests and six lay people.

The 55 year-old prelate denounced that he began to be besieged on Thursday, after protesting against the closing of several Catholic radio stations and the harassment that, according to him, exists against the Catholic Church.

The bishop has demanded in his masses that religious “freedom” be respected and accused the government of wanting “a mute church”.

Crime Against Spirituality

The investigation against him was announced hours after the vice president and wife of Ortega, Rosario Murillo, hinted that the bishop’s criticisms could be considered a “crime”.

What he is doing is “generating discredit towards those institutions that deserve respect (and that) is also a crime, it is a crime against spirituality”, he warned.

The bishop has not yet reacted to the accusations, but in a Facebook transmission he thanked the solidarity of the Archdiocese of Managua, presided by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, other priests and the Latin American Episcopal Council (Celam).  

Nicaraguan priests have been strongly criticized by the government since the opposition protests of 2018, for having given refuge to protesters who were injured or were fleeing the repression of the demonstrations.

“Let’s remember that he led along with other priests the failed coup”, according to pro-government deputy Wilfredo Navarro.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the repression left 355 dead. Some 190 opponents are imprisoned on charges of “undermining national integrity” and other crimes.

Ortega considered the protests as part of a failed coup promoted by the opposition with support from Washington, in which, he said, the bishops were accomplices.

Closing of the Catholic media

On Monday, Alvarez denounced the closure of five radio stations of his Diocese in Matagalpa by the authorities, for alleged illegalities that he denies.

The closure of these media adds to the closure, last June, of the channel of the Episcopal Conference, as well as TV Merced of the Diocese of Matagalpa and the Catholic channel San José de Estelí (north).

Ortega, a 76 year-old former guerrilla, has governed since 2007 after three successive reelections. The last one was in November 2021.

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