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CASE FILED: Plea for justice for wrongfully imprisoned Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez submitted to international human rights body

CASE FILED: Plea for justice for wrongfully imprisoned Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez submitted to international human rights body

  • ADF International has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Nicaraguan bishop Rolando Álvarez.  
  • Álvarez was unjustly sentenced to 26 years in prison for preaching on the human rights violations perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government. 

WASHINGTON, DC (14 September 2023) ADF International has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Nicaraguan bishop Rolando Álvarez. Following a highly irregular criminal trial, Bishop Álvarez of the Catholic Diocese of Matagalpa was unjustly convicted of “undermining national integrity” for his preaching on themes of God-given human dignity and justice, in which he denounced the human rights violations perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government against the Catholic Church, its faithful, and the people generally. 

Bishop Álvarez was barred from celebrating Mass, imprisoned in his residence, and later arrested and held in prison without being offered a reason. The Bishop subsequently was charged and convicted in a sham trial he did not know was occurring for sermons denouncing the Nicaraguan regime’s human rights violations, and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He is deprived of communication with family and legal representation, and it is believed that he is being held in solitary confinement.  

“Those concerned with basic human rights should be outraged by the crisis endured by people of faith in Nicaragua,” said Kristina Hjelkrem, legal counsel for Latin America for ADF International, and lead lawyer on the Bishop’s case.  

Hjelkrem added: “For simply fulfilling his duties as a bishop and preaching the teachings of Christ and the Catholic Church, Bishop Álvarez has been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. This is a clear violation of not only his human right to freedom of expression, but also to profess his faith and share his beliefs as a pastor. ADF International is honored to bring this crucial case to the Commission, and we look forward to securing justice for Bishop Álvarez, and hopefully, an end to religious persecution in Nicaragua. No one should be persecuted or imprisoned for sharing their faith”. 

As there are no effective avenues for legal recourse available in Nicaragua, ADF International is bringing his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The state of persecution in Nicaragua is dire. Most recently, a priest who prayed for Bishop Álvarez was arrested on September 11, 2023. 

Case Background 

The persecution of Bishop Álvarez by Nicaraguan authorities started on August 4, 2022, when police agents prevented him from leaving his residence, the Episcopal Curia of Matagalpa, to celebrate Mass at a nearby cathedral. The Bishop, along with seminarians, priests, and a cameraman, was forcibly detained by police in the diocesan offices for 15 days.  

Later, on August 19, 2022, police forcibly entered the residence, and arbitrarily arrested Bishop Álvarez and seven other members of the Catholic Church without a warrant. Bishop Álvarez then was placed under house arrest by authorities. 

Following the arrest, Nicaraguan authorities opened a criminal investigation into the Bishop for the crimes of “undermining national integrity” and “propagation of false news through information and communication technologies”. Bishop Álvarez later was found guilty of these crimes, along with “aggravated obstruction of functions” and “disobedience of contempt for authority”. 

The Bishop’s charges were on the basis of sermons that he had delivered from the pulpit as a result of what he considered a religious duty to preach about governmental human rights violations. He was convicted after a trial that he did not know was taking place, and at which he therefore could not testify nor cross-examine witnesses. 

Bishop Álvarez was deprived of his nationality and citizenship rights according to a problematic national law, and sentenced to 26 years and 4 months in prison, in addition to being ordered to pay 800 days worth of fines, amounting to almost $5000 USD. 

He now has been held in prison for 7 months, deprived of contact with family or legal representation, apart from one short visit, staged by the government for state media.  

An appeal to the Managua Court of Appeals against the conviction resulting from the sham trial was refused on procedural grounds for failing to challenge specific parts of the judgment, which the court had not provided. Further, the Bishop initially was denied his lawyer of choice, and his legal representation since has been refused basic information about his case. There is no further effective legal recourse available to him in Nicaragua. 

The Church under Attack in Nicaragua 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights have previously ordered Nicaragua to immediately release Bishop Álvarez, and to adopt the necessary measures to effectively protect his life, health, and personal integrity. The government has ignored these measures. 

Nicaragua has been in a state of turmoil since April 2018 with the eruption of civil unrest and massive protests against the government. The Ortega government has targeted the Catholic Church in the form of attacks against religious leaders, religious orders, places of worship, in addition to Catholic institutions and universities, non-profit organizations, and media outlets.   

This is despite previously inviting the Church to serve as mediator in the national dialogue process between the regime and the opposition.  

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has spoken out regarding the hostile aggressions perpetrated by the government, accusing the regime of religious persecution. In the words of a public letter issued by the clergy of Estelí, “they are persecuting the Church for its prophetic mission, because it is the only one capable of denouncing their constant violations of human rights, forgetting that when they persecute the Church, in the person of its servants, the bishops, the priests, the laity, it is Christ himself whom they are persecuting”. 

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the persecution of Bishop Álvarez and the Church in Nicaragua, inviting parties to the conflict to a sincere and open dialogue for peaceful coexistence.


Press release available in Spanish here, and available in German here. 

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