Nicaragua bishop under police siege at home

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Matagalpa (Nicaragua) (AFP) – A Nicaraguan bishop critical of the regime has been confined to his home by police in a fast-worsening standoff between civil society and a government widely accused of authoritarianism.

Rolando Alvarez has been holed up at the bishop’s residence in the northern city of Matagalpa since Thursday, when police prevented him from leaving to say mass.

He had not been allowed to leave by Friday, and police remained at the scene, according to an AFP photographer and video journalist there.

The Cenidh human rights watchdog said on Twitter Thursday that “armed police have erected a barrier preventing him (Alvarez) from leaving his house.”

And in a video also posted online, Alvarez said that “I wanted to go to the cathedral to do holy mass but obviously the authorities… did not give permission; we are here locked up” at the bishop’s residence.

He denounced official “harassment” and urged the government to respect religious freedom.

The Church in Nicaragua has been under increasing government pressure since opposition protests in 2018 met with repression that resulted in 355 deaths, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Ortega, who maintains the protests were part of a Washington-backed opposition plot to unseat him, has also accused bishops of complicity and said protesters used church buildings as “barracks.”

Churches sheltered protesters who were injured or went into hiding.

‘Violation of freedom’

On Monday, Alvarez denounced the closure by authorities of five radio stations in his diocese in Matagalpa.

This followed the closure in June of several Catholic television channels.

The European Union on Thursday condemned the “arbitrary” closure of Catholic and community broadcasters, and said “excessive police force was used to occupy the installations and to intimidate and dispersed unarmed protesters.”

This amounted to “yet another violation of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement.

Ortega, a 76-year-old former guerrilla, has governed Nicaragua since 2007, winning three successive reelections.

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The last vote took place in November 2021 with several of Ortega’s main rivals joining other government opponents and critics in jail.

According to EU, Nicaragua has more than 180 “political prisoners.”

In the first half of 2022, said the EU, Nicaraguan authorities closed down over 1,200 civil society organizations.

According to the Vatican, Nicaragua expelled its ambassador to the country in March.

A charity organization established by Mother Teresa was outlawed in July, and its nuns forced to leave the country.

Other, non-religious media have also accused Ortega’s government of harassment that has forced media personnel to flee abroad.

Last month, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists called for Nicaragua to “stop raiding journalists’ homes and allow the media to work freely.”

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