NEW YORK – The head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference International Justice and Peace Committee has called on the U.S. government to help free Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who remains under house arrest at the hands of the Nicaraguan government.

Álvarez, who is also the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Estelí, was detained by Nicaragua’s National Police on August 19. Last week, he was charged with “undermining national integrity and the propagation of false news,” essentially criticizing the government.

He is scheduled to appear before a regime tribunal on January 10, 2023.

“Since the bloody crackdown on peaceful protestors in 2018 – when my predecessor Archbishop Timothy Broglio traveled to Nicaragua to express our solidarity with our brother bishops and the people of Nicaragua – the regime and its allies have been implementing a policy of severe, systematic physical, rhetorical, and institutional aggression and intimidation against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford said in a December 16 statement.

“This has included unjust detentions, violence, prohibition of priests from returning to Nicaragua, desecrations of sacred images, and even profanations of the Blessed Sacrament,” Malloy continued.

“I call on the U.S. Government and the international community to pursue the immediate release of Bishop Álvarez, the restoration of religious freedom and human rights guarantees, and initiate a process of restoring the democratic order and rule of law in Nicaragua.”

The bishop added that Álvarez’s “deteriorated physical appearance is a testament to the particularly difficult conditions of his house arrest.”

The charges against Álvarez are the latest repressive actions against the Catholic Church by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his administration. Álvarez has been a prominent religious voice since protests of Ortega’s government broke out in 2018, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

Ortega has been Nicaragua’s president since 2007, and in recent years has arrested other Catholic leaders, and attempted to ban Catholic celebrations, as well, branding the Catholic hierarchy in the country as “coup plotters” and “terrorists.” He has claimed pro-democracy protests in the nation have been carried out with the support of the Catholic church.

The same day the charges against Àlvarwez were publicized, it was also announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Father Uriel Vallejos, who is said to have previously left Nicaragua. The Ortega regime this year also expelled nuns from Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity religious order. Archbishop Waldemar Stanisław Sommertag, the former apostolic nuncio in Nicaragua, was also expelled, a move the Vatican called “incomprehensible.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended in its 2022 annual report that the state department keep Nicaragua on its special watch list for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act.” It also called for targeted sanctions on Nicaraguan government agencies and officials.

USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf, in response to the charges against Álvarez, said in a statement that the commission is “outraged” that the Ortega regime continues to hold the bishop under house arrest on “spurious charges.”

“Bishop Álvarez is allegedly charged with conspiracy, spreading false news, and damaging the Nicaraguan government and society,” Wolf said. “In reality, he’s motivated by faith to call out the [government’s] human rights record, making him its latest target.”

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