Nicaraguan judge sentences Catholic bishop to 26 years


MEXICO CITY — A Nicaraguan judge sentenced Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez to 26 years in prison on Friday, a day after he refused to board a flight to the United States along with 222 other inmates.

Octavio Ernesto Rothschuh, chief judge of the Managua appeals court, delivered the sentence, the longest sentencing any opposition figure and critics of President Daniel Ortega’s government over the past few years.

Álvarez was arrested in August along with several other priests and parishioners. Ortega said Thursday night that before boarding a plane to Washington Álvarez had said he would not go without consulting other bishops. Something Ortega calls “an absurdity.”

The president said Álvarez, who was under house arrest, was then taken to the nearby Modelo prison.

His sentencing has been scheduled for next week.

Álvarez was once one of the most outspoken religious figures still in Nicaragua as Ortega intensified his crackdown on the opposition.

THIS IS HOT NEWS. The previous story is below:

Sanctions and public criticism of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega have been building for months, but officials from both the United States and Nicaragua say the decision brings up 222 dissidents. The plane to Washington was a surprise.

The plane had just taken off on Thursday when news began to spread of the sudden release of opposition figures, journalists, activists and priests, who were mostly considered political prisoners.

The majority have been convicted in the past few years with long prison sentences. The mass release took place over several days, and the inmates had no idea what was going on until their bus turned into Managua’s international airport.

“I think the pressure, the political pressure of the prisoners, the political prisoners becomes important to the Ortega regime, even to the people, the Sandinistas who are tired of the abuses, ‘ said opposition leader Juan Sebastian Chamorro, one of those freed. said in a news conference on Friday. “I think (Ortega) basically wants to send the opposition abroad into exile.”

In Ortega’s mind, they were terrorists. He claims, funded by foreign governments, they worked to destabilize his government after massive street protests broke out in April 2018.

Ortega said Vice President Rosario Murillo, his wife, first came to him with the idea of ​​deporting the prisoners.

“Rosario said to me, ‘Why don’t we have the ambassador take all these terrorists,'” Ortega said in a lengthy statement Thursday night. In a few days, it was done.

“Again, time is very short,” said a State Department official, who asked not to be named, suggesting that the handover would come together in just two days. “Once we became aware of this, we were able to take action and ensure the safe transportation of these individuals.”

Nicaragua presented a list of 228 prisoners they wanted to kill. Officials from both countries said the United States removed four of them from the list, and then two more refused to board on Thursday.

On Friday, Emily Mendrala, deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s Department of Western Hemisphere Affairs, stressed to reporters that it was Nicaragua’s decision.

“Maybe the pressure of sanctions had an impact, but it was a unilateral decision,” she said. “There is no negotiation, and Nicaragua is not asking for anything.”

Ortega talked a lot the night before. He frames it as a matter of principle and sovereignty.

“We are not asking them to lift sanctions. We are not asking for anything in exchange,” he said. “They should take their mercenaries.”

Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer who has handled the cases of opposition leaders Chamorro and Felix Maradiaga, said on Friday that “dictators never release political prisoners because they want to, they release them when they have to, when releasing them is the least worst option. “

It is possible that human rights organizations, the United Nations, and foreign governments’ frequent attention to the plight of prisoners has held them accountable for more than simply deporting them from Nicaragua.

“This seems to be a kind of escape valve because there has been a lot of international lobbying, pressure from the EU, from the US, from other countries,” said Antonio Garrastazu, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at International International. “. Republican Institute in Washington. “They do more harm inside Nicaragua than outside.”

Ortega ramped up his pursuit of political opponents in early 2021, seeking to clear the field ahead of the November presidential election that year. Security forces arrested seven potential presidential candidates and Ortega won a fourth straight term in an election that the United States and other nations called a farce.

Nicaraguan judges have sentenced several opposition leaders to prison, including former senior officials of the ruling Sandinista movement and former presidential candidates, for “conspiring to undermine integrity”. nation”.

One of the two prisoners who decided to stay in Nicaragua was Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez. He was under house arrest before Thursday, but Ortega said he is currently being held in Modelo prison. His continued imprisonment promises to be a continuing problem for Ortega in a Nicaragua that is still strongly Catholic.

Álvarez is expected to be sentenced next week on charges of conspiracy and spreading false information.

“I think the Catholic Church is one of the main institutions that the Ortega regime is really, really afraid of,” said Garrastazu. “The real Catholic Church is the ones who can really change people’s hearts and minds.” Álvarez and other priests and parishioners were arrested in August after the government shut down several radio stations owned by the diocese of Matagalpa.

The United States has given released prisoners two years of humanitarian parole during which they will be able to work and seek asylum.

Spain on Friday granted Nicaraguans Spanish citizenship and added that it would accept any other Nicaraguans in the same situation as the freed prisoners.

Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said the offer was made because Nicaragua was moving to deprive freed prisoners of their citizenship. He made the announcement in comments to the private Spanish news agency Servimedia and his ministry confirmed them.

While the plane was still in the air on Thursday, the National Assembly of Nicaragua voted to pass a constitutional change proposal that would allow the government to strip them of their citizenship.

“We are very concerned by the news that they have revoked their citizenship,” said Mendrala of the State Department.

“This is a very clear and blatant violation of international law,” said Genser, a human rights lawyer. Everyone has their own citizenship and freedom of movement.” He said he was investigating through international mechanisms that the move could be challenged.

Maradiaga and Chamorro, both opposition leaders and those likely to challenge Ortega for the presidency in 2021, told journalists on Friday that they would continue to fight for Nicaraguan democracy from outside the country.

Maradiaga compared the deportation of Nicaragua to the Roman empire, when deportation was an alternative to death. He says such a step is taken when a dictator can no longer tolerate opponents, but realizes that there are consequences to killing them.

Chamorro, who was arrested in 2021 and sentenced to 13 years in prison, said that “not a single generation in Nicaragua’s 200 years of independence has not suffered from war, kidnapping, human rights violations, exile or murder. people and that has to change. “

Salomon reports from Miami. AP reporter Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Spain contributed to this report.


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