Nicaraguan riot police on Thursday prevented Bishop Rolando Alvarez from leaving the church house to preside a mass on the occasion of a “prayer crusade” being carried out by the church, after the closure of several Catholic media and allegations of harassment.
“I wanted to go out to the cathedral to celebrate Holy Mass, but obviously the higher authorities have not given permission, we find ourselves here (…) locked up in the episcopal curia”, denounced the bishop, in a video published by the independent Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) on Twitter.
Alvarez, bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and a critic of Daniel Ortega’s government, said he will remain inside the curia along with six priests and lay people until he is let out.
Police surrounded the curial house of Matagalpa, in northern Nicaragua.
Alvarez, who is a member of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN), was cornered in the curia, where he had arrived earlier despite the attempt of the police to block his way.
The police should not carry out “these harassments, these harassments”, protested the bishop, who during an improvised mass that he transmitted through social networks, demanded the Ortega government to respect religious “freedom”.
They must “allow us to celebrate our faith in freedom, our freedom of expression, because we are not hurting anyone,” he said.
“I believe that praying is no crime, (and) if praying is a crime, I believe we will continue to pray for the strengthening of our clergy and our priests,” Matagalpan parishioner Maria Ruiz told AFP.
The Nicaraguan Catholic Church is holding “a day of prayer for the sanctification and protection of priests” who have been strongly criticized by the government since the 2018 opposition protests,
Several temples gave refuge to demonstrators who were injured or fleeing the repression of the 2018 protests, which left 355 dead, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
According to the president, the temples were used as “barracks” by the protesters.
He also considered the protests as part of a failed coup d’état promoted by the opposition with Washington’s support, in which he said the bishops were accomplices.
Closing of the Catholic Media
On Monday, Alvarez denounced the closing of five radio stations of his Diocese in Matagalpa, by the authorities, for alleged illegalities that he rejects.
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).
On Thursday, the European Union (EU) condemned the “arbitrary” closure of Nicaraguan Catholic radio stations and the use of violence to intimidate government opponents.
“This constitutes a new violation of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief,” denounced in a statement Peter Stano, spokesman for the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
They close the media because that’s the way “the dictatorial couple wants it”, criticized on Twitter Father Vicente Martínez, from Ciudad Darío, a municipality of Matagalpa, in allusion to Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
“There are still some characters who are buffoons, who make fools of themselves, with no moral stature whatsoever,” Murillo condemned on Thursday in the pro-government media.
Ortega, a 76-year-old former guerrilla, has governed since 2007 after three successive reelections. The last one was in November 2021, with several of his rivals in jail, accused of threatening the country’s stability.
Last March, the Vatican informed that the Nicaraguan government withdrew its nuncio in Managua since 2018, Waldemar Sommer, the approval to remain in the country.
Meanwhile, the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity Association, of the order of St. Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), left Nicaragua in July, after the government outlawed their operations.
Bishop Alvarez accuses the government of wanting a “mute church” so that it would not denounce injustices. He also denounced more than once harassment by the police.