MANAGUA: Nicaraguan bishop and regime critic Rolando Alvarez was arrested on Friday (Saturday in Manila) for “destabilizing and provocative” activities, in a worsening standoff between the Catholic Church and a government accused of authoritarianism increasing.
After two weeks under police siege at his official residence in the central Nicaraguan city of Matagalpa, Alvarez was taken by police to the capital Managua on Friday about 130 kilometers (81 miles) away, the authorities said. authorities.
Supporters said Alvarez was taken “violently” to an unknown location, prompting the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) to express concern.
In a tweet tagged #SOS, the Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano (Celam or Latin American Episcopal Council) said that “the national police entered the residence of our diocese of Matagalpa and took” the bishop.
It happened at 3 a.m. local time at the Matagalpa Residence Church where Alvarez and a group of priests and laity had been besieged by police since August 4, he added.
Vilma Nunez of the Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Cenidh or Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights) told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the police “removed [the bishop] with violence” and without telling anyone where he was being taken.
Hours later, the National Police said in a statement that Alvarez had been brought to Managua, adding that he was “under house arrest” and “able to meet with family members this morning.”
Eight others, including five priests, who had been locked up with Alvarez were taken to the capital with him, Celam said, and were all under investigation.
Later, the Church said Alvarez was being held at his “family home”, where Cardinal Lepoldo Brenes was allowed to visit him.
Brenes reported that the bishop’s “physical condition has deteriorated” but his “spirit is strong,” the Archdiocese of Managua said in a statement.
According to Cenidh, the other eight were being held in El Chipote prison, a notorious penitentiary for government critics.
Police said Alvarez’s detention was a “public order” operation necessitated by the bishop’s “destabilizing and provocative activities.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned about the severe closure of democratic and civic space in Nicaragua, and recent actions against civil society organizations, including those of the Catholic Church”.
“Reports of a raid on the residence of the Catholic bishop of Matagalpa only heighten these concerns,” he added.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has come under increasing pressure from the government since opposition protests in 2018 were met with a crackdown that left hundreds dead.
President Daniel Ortega argues the protests were part of a Washington-backed opposition plot to overthrow him. He accused the bishops of complicity and claimed protesters were using church buildings as “barracks”.
Alvarez himself is accused by authorities of inciting violence to destabilize the Central American country.
He was besieged at his residence after criticizing the closure of Church radio stations and news channels.
Arturo McFields, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), tweeted on Friday that “the dictatorship has kidnapped Rolando Alvarez…continuing its hellish pursuit of the Church.”
António Guterres urged Ortega’s government “to ensure the protection of the human rights of all citizens…and to release all those arbitrarily detained”.
Church representatives from Peru and Panama sent messages of solidarity.
And OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro tweeted: “We condemn the kidnapping” of Alvarez and the others by the “repressive forces” of the Ortega regime.
“We demand their immediate release and that of all political prisoners,” he added.