A Roman Catholic bishop was put under house arrest and four priests, two seminarians and a cameraman were imprisoned on Friday 19 August. Shortly after 3am, Nicaraguan security forces stormed the Curia in Matagalpa, where Bishop Rolando Álvarez and 11 others had been forcibly confined for 15 days.
Bishop Álvarez was taken to Managua and placed under house arrest while seven men, Father Ramiro Tijerino, Father Sadiel Eugarrios, Father Raúl González, Father José Luis Díaz, seminarians Darvin Leiva and Melkin Sequeira, and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, are being held in detention at the Evaristo Vásquez Sánchez Police Complex, also known as El Nuevo Chipote. Four of those who had been confined at the Curia, two chorists, a cameraman and Vicar General Óscar Escoto, were released.
Following the arrests, the Nicaraguan police issued a statement claiming that the government “waited patiently, with prudence and a sense of responsibility, over several days for a positive communication from the Matagalpa Bishopric, which never took place and which, because of the ongoing destabilizing and provocative activities made [this] Public Order operation necessary.” Previously, the Nicaraguan police had claimed that the bishop was responsible for attempting to organise violent groups in order to destablise the government.
While they were confined to the Curia, Bishop Álvarez and the others with him continued to hold Mass broadcast live on social media channels. Over the past few months, the Nicaraguan government has arrested at least four priests and shut down a number of media outlets, including television channels and radio stations run by the Roman Catholic Church. A priest who was blockaded inside his parish in the city of Sébaco in Matagalpa Department for five days starting on 1 August is now thought to be in hiding.
Roman Catholic groups around the world have issued statements of concern and support for Bishop Álvarez and other Roman Catholic leaders who have been targeted by the government. These included a message of solidarity issued by Monsignor Emilio Aranguren Echeverría, president of the Cuban Council of Catholic Bishops and Bishop of the Diocese of Holguín, “due to the increase in painful events that the pilgrim Church is living through in [Nicaragua].”
The Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, was permitted to visit Bishop Álvarez in Managua shortly after he was put under house arrest and in a public statement confirmed that he found the bishop showing signs of some physical deterioration “but spiritually strong with his confidence placed in the Lord.”
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: “The detention of Bishop Rolando Álvarez under house arrest and the imprisonment of seven of those with him by the Nicaraguan government is unconscionable. We call for their immediate release, as well as that of the other religious leaders who have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned in recent months. The government’s assertions that the bishop and those with whom he was confined inside the Matagalpa Curia by heavily armed security forces were attempting to foment violence and destabilise the country are clearly false and nothing more than pretext to silence and neutralise one of the strongest remaining sectors of independent civil society in the country. We urge the international community to make it very clear to the Nicaraguan government that this attack on freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief is unacceptable.”