A Catholic bishop, who has been in jail for the last eleven months for criticising the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega, has been returned to prison after refusing to be exiled to Rome.
According to local media outlets, Bishop Rolando Alvarez met a mediator assigned by the Vatican earlier this month to consider the cleric’s options. According to reports, the mediator had tried to convince Bishop Rolando to leave the country for Rome, but he declined the offer.
Instead, the Catholic leader called on the government to grant his unconditional release and that of five other imprisoned priest. He also demanded the unfreezing of bank accounts of Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the country, and for the government to halt its targeting of religious groups and leaders.
This is understood to be the second time Bishop Rolando has rejected a government offer to leave the country. In February, over 200 political and religious leaders were exiled to the US, including some priests arrested with Bishop Rolando in August 2022.
The leader of the Matagalpa diocese is serving a 26-year prison sentence, widely condemned as unjust by the Church and the international community. He has also lost his Nicaraguan citizenship and been fined on charges of undermining national integrity and spreading false news.
Government critics fear Bishop Roland will be forced into exile, like the former bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez Ortega. He left the country in 2019 following a series of death threats for criticising President Daniel Ortega.
Bishop Silvio, who spoke to Bishop Rolando last August, shared on social media Bishop Roland had previously told him that he “would not leave Nicaragua for any reason unless the Pope ordered him to do so”.
“[Álvarez] added that it was a decision he made in conscience before God. Thus, there is nothing to negotiate.” Bishop Silvio continued: “I know Rolando, and he would never bargain away a decision of conscience that he made, which I fully understand.”
Last month, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Nicaraguan government to immediately release the bishop.
CSW’s head of advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: “The Nicaraguan government must comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights order to release Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos.
Additionally, he must have his citizenship and rights restored and be allowed to remain in his own country if that is his wish.
“We join his calls for the release of the other five Roman Catholic priests currently in prison, to unfreeze the bank accounts of all religious groups and for the government to cease its harassment of religious groups and their leaders. CSW urges the international community to do significantly more to hold President Ortega and his regime to account for the deteriorating situation of human rights in Nicaragua."