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Nicaraguan police arrest bishop and other priests in raid

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By GABRIELA SELLER, Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaraguan police raided the residence of a Roman Catholic bishop who is openly critical of President Daniel Ortega’s government on Friday, apparently detaining the senior cleric and several other priests who had been locked inside for two weeks after the police put a cordon.

The pre-dawn raid came after Nicaraguan authorities accused Matagalpa Bishop Rolando Álvarez of ‘organizing violent groups’ and inciting them ‘to commit acts of hatred against the population’ .

The government of President Daniel Ortega has consistently opposed dissenting voices. Dozens of political opposition leaders were arrested last year, including seven potential candidates to challenge him for the presidency. They were sentenced to his year’s prison in speedy trials closed to the public.

The congress, dominated by Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front, ordered the closure of more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations, including the charity of Mother Teresa.

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Early Friday, the Diocese of Matagalpa posted on social media: “#SOS #Urgente. At this moment, the national police entered the episcopal presbytery of our diocese of Matagalpa.

In a video message, Pablo Cuevas, a lawyer for the nongovernmental Standing Committee on Human Rights, condemned Álvarez’s detention but said it was not unexpected.

“What was obviously going to happen happened, the arbitrary and abusive arrest of Monsignor Álvarez,” Cuevas said.

Edwin Román, a Nicaraguan priest exiled in the United States said via Twitter: “MY GOD! How scandalous they took Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, together with the priests who were with him.

Police said on August 5 that the investigation will also target a number of people who will not be allowed to leave their homes during the investigation.

Álvarez has been a key religious voice in discussions over Nicaragua’s future since 2018, when a wave of protests against Ortega’s government led to a sweeping crackdown on opponents.

“We hope there will be a series of electoral reforms, structural changes in electoral authority – free, fair and transparent elections, unconditional international observation,” Álvarez said a month after the protests broke out. “Indeed the democratization of the country.

At the time, a priest from the diocese of Alvarez was injured in the arm by shrapnel as he tried to separate protesters and police in Matagalpa.

He has maintained such calls for democracy for the past four years, infuriating Ortega and Murillo.

Friday’s arrests follow weeks of heightened tensions between the church and the government.

Ortega has had a complicated relationship with Nicaragua’s predominant religion and its rulers for more than four decades. The former Marxist guerrilla infuriated the Vatican in the 1980s but gradually forged an alliance with the church as he tried to win back the presidency in 2007 after a long spell without power. Now he again seems to see political advantage in direct confrontation.

Ortega initially invited the church to negotiate talks with protesters in 2018, but has since taken a more aggressive stance.

A few days before last year’s presidential elections which he won for a fourth consecutive term with his staunchest opponents imprisoned, he accused the bishops of having written in 2018 a political proposal on behalf of “terrorists, in the service Yankees”. … These bishops are also terrorists.”

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

The government had previously shut down eight radio stations and a television channel in Matagalpa province, north of Managua. Seven of the radio stations were run by the church.

The Aug. 5 announcement that Álvarez was under investigation came just hours after First Lady and Vice President Rosario Murillo slammed “sins against spirituality” and “exposing hatred.” in an apparent reference to Álvarez.

The Archdiocese of Managua had previously expressed support for Álvarez. The Latin American Catholic Bishops‘ Conference denounced what it called a “siege” of priests and bishops, the expulsion of members of religious communities and the “constant harassment” aimed at the Nicaraguan people and the church.

The Vatican remained silent on the Álvarez investigation for nearly two weeks, drawing criticism from some Latin American human rights activists and intellectuals.

That silence was broken last Friday when Monsignor Juan Antonio Cruz, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the Organization of American States, expressed concern over the situation and asked both sides to “seek ways to To hear”.

The Vatican again had no comment on Friday and did not immediately report the news on its internal media portal. While remaining silent, apparently in the hope of not stirring up tensions, the Vatican has in recent days published regular expressions of solidarity from Latin American bishops on its Vatican News site.

The president of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Huge street protests across Nicaragua in 2018 called for Ortega to stand down. Ortega argued that the protests were a coup attempt carried out with foreign backing and church backing.

AP writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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