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Bishop Rolando Alvarez Lagos


Bishop remains in prison following release of twelve Roman Catholic priests

20 Oct 2023

Twelve Roman Catholic priests who had been held as political prisoners have been released and forced into exile. The 12 priests had been arbitrarily detained on various charges and for varying lengths of time, but were released following negotiations between the Vatican and the Nicaraguan government.

On 18 October, the Ortega regime issued a statement naming the 12 priests who had been released and stating that it showed ‘the permanent will and commitment [of the Nicaraguan government] to find solutions.’

According to Vatican News, Matteo Bruni, the director of the press office for the Holy See confirmed that the 12 priests have gone into exile and would be welcomed and lodged in facilities belonging to the Diocese of Rome in Italy.

The Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez Lagos, was not named among those who were released. The bishop was placed under house arrest in August 2022, and in February 2022 was stripped of his Nicaraguan nationality and civil rights for life, and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He is currently held in the La Modelo Tititapa Prison.

Six of the priests sent into exile were detained during the first nine days of October. On 11 October, the Human Rights Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) unanimously approved a resolution in which they condemned the arrest of the six priests and urged the Nicaraguan government ‘to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners… to refrain from repressing and arbitrarily detaining leaders of the Catholic Church… (and to) annul the norms that allow citizens to be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality.’  The other priests had been detained for longer periods.

The release of the 12 priests follows a post on X (formerly Twitter) from the Centre for Inter-American Legal Assistance in Human Rights (CALIDH) on 16 October which claimed that people are being harassed by the Nicaraguan police, with agents identifying themselves as part of the ‘intelligence’. Those affected told CALIDH that they are being offered prison or exile.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘These developments must not be viewed as gesture of good will on the part of the government. This is part of a concerning trend whereby those who are deemed critical of the government and therefore ‘dangerous’ are faced with an unjust decision of prison or exile. Whilst we welcome the release of the 12 priests who were being held as political prisoners by the Ortega regime, it is unconscionable that they were stripped of their citizenship and forced into exile in exchange for their freedom. We continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Bishop Álvarez Lagos and that of all other political prisoners. We urge the international community to hold President Ortega and his regime to account for its continued crackdown on independent voices in the country.’ 

Note to Editors

  1. The priests who were sent into forced exile are:
    1. José Leonardo Urbina Rodriguez – arrested September 2022
    2. Manuel Salvador García Rodríguez – sentenced on June 2022 to two years in prison
    3. Jaime Iván Montesinos Sauceda – arrested May 2023
    4. Pastor Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides – arrested May 2023
    5. Fernando Israel Zamora Silva – arrested July 2023
    6. Osman José Amador Guillén – arrested September 2023
    7. Julio Ricardo Norori Jiménez - arrested October 2023
    8. Cristóbal Reynaldo Gadea Velásquez - arrested October 2023
    9. Álvaro José Toledo Amador - arrested October 2023
    10. José Iván Centeno Tercero - arrested October 2023
    11. Yessner Cipriano Pineda Meneses - arrested October 2023
    12. Ramón Esteban Angulo Reyes - arrested October 2023



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