An outspoken Catholic bishop who was incarcerated for more than a year due to his criticism of the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and whose case garnered widespread international attention was released on Saturday.
Alongside Rolando Álvarez, who was incarcerated for 528 days, fifteen priests and two seminarians were also released. Among those released was Bishop Isidoro del Carmen Mora Ortega of Siuna, who was apprehended the day before Christmas and a day after publicly pleading for prayers for Álvarez.
Rolando Álvarez wearing a priests robe and rosary
In a significant development, Nicaragua's government has released a prominent Catholic bishop, Rolando Álvarez, and 18 other clergy members who were imprisoned over a year ago in a crackdown led by President Daniel Ortega. The clergy members were accused of supporting massive 2018 civic protests, which President Ortega alleged were part of a plot to overthrow his government.
The releases, which took place on Sunday, were part of negotiations with the Vatican, as stated in a government press statement. The clergy members were promptly handed over to Vatican authorities and welcomed in Rome. Vatican News, the official media outlet of the Vatican, reported that the group arrived in Rome on Sundayafternoon and were embraced as "guests of the Holy See." Among those released was Bishop Isidoro Mora, as confirmed by Ortega's government. Notably, Ortega had previously sent 222 prisoners to the United States in February, in a deal brokered by the U.S. government. Later, these prisoners were stripped of their citizenship.
Bishop Álvarez, who had been convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 26 years in prison, had remained incarcerated for over a year. As one of the country's most outspoken clergy members, he had refused to board the February flight to the United States without consulting with other bishops.
This release follows a similar event in October of the previous year, when Nicaragua released a dozen Catholic priests on various charges, sending them to Rome under an agreement with the Vatican.
Since the suppression of popular protests in 2018 that called for President Ortega's resignation, his government has systematically silenced opposing voices and targeted the Catholic Church. This included the seizure of the prestigious Jesuit-run University of Central Americain August.
Nicaragua's Congress, dominated by Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front, has ordered the closure of over 3,000 non-governmental organizations, including the charity founded by Mother Teresa.
The political climate in Nicaragua has led to thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing into exile since the violent crackdown on the 2018 protests. President Ortega has consistently labeled the demonstrations as an attempted coup with foreign backing.
In addition to severing diplomatic ties, last year saw the expulsion of two orders of nuns, including Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, from Nicaragua, along with the PopeFrancis-led Jesuit order.
While the release of Bishop Álvarez, Bishop Mora, and the other clergy members arriving in Rome on Sunday is viewed as a significant step forward, concerns persist as many political prisoners remain incarcerated in Nicaragua. The situation underscores the ongoing challenges and tensions within the country.
Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez and 18 Catholic clergy members, released by the Nicaraguan government, have arrived in Rome as guests of the Holy See, according to the Vatican. The release, part of negotiations between Nicaragua and the Vatican, follows over a year of imprisonment, with Bishop Álvarez receiving a 26-year sentence for refusing a February flight to the United States.
President Daniel Ortega's government has faced criticism for silencing dissent since suppressing protests in 2018 demanding his resignation. The situation underscores ongoing tensions between the Nicaraguan government and the Catholic Church.