It is those who speak truth to power that most quickly become targets. Yet in situations of repression, leaders who bear witness to the inviolable nature of human dignity are indispensable for the safeguarding of human rights. Today the European Parliament curated its shortlist for the 2023 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Europe’s highest human rights award.
One of the nominees, Bishop Rolando Álvarez from Nicaragua, is currently serving a 26-year prison sentence for peacefully opposing government repression. Following the April 2018 unrest directed against the Ortega regime, Nicaragua descended into a state of turmoil. The bishop became a well-known figure for offering a message of hope and encouragement in his sermons.
As the regime turned its sights on the Catholic Church—including places of worship, religious orders, institutions, media, and the faithful—Bishop Álvarez was caught in the crosshairs for denouncing the government’s abuses.
On 10 February 2023, Bishop Álvarez was convicted of “undermining national integrity” and “propagation of false news” in a sham trial of which he had not even been notified.
The charges were laid on the basis of sermons that he had delivered, which had been offered from the pulpit in fulfillment of what he considered his religious duty to preach about the government’s human rights violations. He is currently languishing in prison, deprived of contact with his family and his lawyers. The state of his well-being and health has prompted international concern.
Because there are no avenues for effective appeal in Nicaragua, legal advocacy organization ADF International has filed an urgent appeal for justice at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is tasked with the promotion of human rights throughout Latin America.
Given the state of affairs in Nicaragua, international action is essential to obtain justice for Bishop Álvarez and to end persecution in Nicaragua.
No state should be able to persecute people because of their faith. The Nicaraguan government’s crackdown on religious leaders clearly serves to intimidate ordinary people and suppress their ability freely to live out their faith.
By vocally resisting tyranny, Bishop Álvarez stood up for the basic freedoms of his fellow citizens. Having rejected a government offer of exile in order that he might remain in the country, the bishop has shown a steadfast commitment to accompanying Nicaraguans through these difficult times, declaring, “Whatever you want to do with me, if you are going to do it to me, do it to me and not to the faithful, not to the holy people of God. I tell you that in all clarity and simplicity.”
Here is a man sacrificially committed to bearing the brunt of government oppression in the hope of securing a better future for his beloved people.
The international community must act to end persecution in Nicaragua and to free those who, like the bishop, courageously speak the truth.
Flouting international human rights law, the regime has repeatedly violated Bishop Álvarez’s religious freedom and his right to free speech. Everyone concerned with protecting human rights should speak out in his support, just as he has spoken out in courageous support of his fellow Nicaraguans.
As the European Parliament chooses its winner for this year’s Sakharov Prize, we hope Bishop Álvarez will be recognized. This important gesture would bring much-needed attention to his plight and to the persecution of the Nicaraguan people.