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Nicaraguan bishop, alleging police harassment, goes on hunger strike

by Reuters Journalist

A Nicaraguan bishop critical of President Daniel Ortega's government began a hunger strike on Friday after taking refuge in a Catholic church indefinitely in the capital Managua, alleging he had been targeted by the police. 

Rolando Alvarez, bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and Esteli in the north of the country, said that a police car followed him throughout the day Thursday as other religious order members in his parishes are being harassed.

"I have been followed throughout the day by the Sandinista police, from morning until late at night. At all times, in every movement I made," the bishop said in a Thursday evening post announcing the hunger strike on the diocese's social media.

The priest said police surrounded his home as well. "They came to my family's home, my father's, my mother's, putting the safety of my family at risk," he said.

The Nicaraguan government and police force did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Alvarez said he would continue the hunger strike "until the National Police, only through the president or vice president of the Episcopal Conference, let me know that they are going to respect my family's privacy."

Early Friday evening, telecoms company Claro announced it would stop broadcasting a local Catholic television channel directed by Alvarez, citing orders from Nicaragua's state telecoms regulator.

The bishop was one of the mediators of failed dialogue attempts between the government and the opposition in 2018. 

He, along with Monsignor Silvio Baez, who fled to the United States, were the most critical voices of the church against Ortega throughout the talks.

The two demanded justice for the more than 350 people killed as a result of anti-government protests in 2018 and requested the Ortega government free those considered political prisoners.

Alvarez's strike comes amid heightened tensions between the government and the Catholic Church. One priest in the city of Masaya has taken refuge in his parish, which he says is surrounded by police.  

In March, the country expelled Vatican ambassador Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, without elaborating why.

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