Nicaraguan bishop criticizes Ortega under house arrest after raid | Political news

Church and rights advocates condemn detention of Ronaldo Alvarez, who police say is under house arrest in Managua.

Nicaraguan authorities have placed a Catholic bishop critical of President Daniel Ortega under house arrest, after a pre-dawn police raid on Ronaldo Alvarez’s home was condemned by the church, rights groups and observers international.

Alvarez, the head of the northern diocese of Matagalpa, had been under house arrest in a church in Matagalpa for two weeks with five priests, a seminarian and a cameraman for a religious television channel.

“#SOS #Urgent. At this moment, the national police have entered the episcopal rectory of our diocese of Matagalpa,” the diocese had said on social media early Friday as the raid in Matagalpa was underway.

Police later said they took Alvarez to the capital Managua, where he remains under house arrest, while the cameraman and clerics were moved to a city jail.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes said he visited Alvarez at his family home at an unspecified time and that his spirit was intact although his “physical condition had deteriorated”.

The raid was criticized by public figures and religious groups, while a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was very concerned. Pope Francis did not comment on the crackdown.

The pre-dawn raid came after Nicaraguan authorities accused the bishop of “organizing violent groups” and inciting them “to commit acts of hatred against the population.”

Pablo Cuevas, a lawyer for the nongovernmental organization Standing Committee on Human Rights, condemned Alvarez’s detention but said it was not unexpected. “What was obviously going to happen happened, the arbitrary and abusive arrest of Monsignor Alvarez,” he said in a video message.

Nicaraguan authorities have detained at least three priests in recent months while others have gone into exile amid a broad government crackdown on critics of Ortega in the months before and after elections last November.

Dozens of opposition figures, including several who sought to challenge Ortega’s re-election bid, were arrested and many have since been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Relations between the Catholic Church and the government were severely strained after a harsh crackdown on anti-Ortega protests in 2018.

The action against Alvarez, 55, began when riot police prevented him from leaving his home to say mass earlier this month, and days later the bishop announced he was indeed under “house arrest”.

Ortega, the longtime leader of Nicaragua, won a fourth consecutive term after a November 2021 vote that the United States, European Union and other international observers denounced as a “sham”.

Days before the election, Ortega accused the Nicaraguan bishops of drafting a 2018 policy proposal on behalf of “terrorists, serving the Yankees…These bishops are also terrorists.”

In March, Nicaragua expelled the papal nuncio, the Vatican’s top diplomat in Nicaragua.

“With a heart full of pain and indignation, I condemn the nightly kidnapping of Bishop Alvarez,” Nicaraguan bishop-in-exile Silvio Baez said Friday in a tweet about the police raid.

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, also condemned the detentions in a statement and demanded “their immediate freedom and that of all political prisoners”.

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