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CONFIRMED: Bishop Álvarez released from prison by Nicaraguan government

  • Bishop Álvarez now safe at the Vatican after being sentenced to 26 years in prison for preaching on the human rights violations perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government
  • ADF International “privileged to have supported his pursuit of justice” through petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and international advocacy on behalf of the bishop

ROME, ITALY (15 January 2024) – The Nicaraguan government announced the release of two bishops, fifteen priests and two seminarians to the Holy See on Sunday. Among them was the Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who had been sentenced to 26 years in prison for preaching on the human rights violations perpetrated by the Nicaraguan government. International pressure for his release has been mounting as ADF International petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and advocated before the US Congress on the bishop’s behalf.

According to the Nicaraguan government’s statement: “They have already been received by Vatican Authorities, in compliance with Agreements of Good Faith and Goodwill, which seek to promote understanding and improve communication between the Holy See and Nicaragua, for Peace and Good.”

“We celebrate and welcome the release of bishop Álvarez and other members of the Nicaraguan clergy. Álvarez should have never been harassed and unjustly imprisoned for simply fulfilling his duties as a Catholic bishop in the first place. No one should be punished or prosecuted for expressing their faith. ADF International is privileged to have supported the pursuit of justice for the bishop and we pray now for his recovery from this ordeal as well as the difficult situation that remains in Nicaragua,” said Kristina Hjelkrem, Legal Counsel for Latin America for ADF International, and lead lawyer on the bishop’s case.

Imprisoned for the faith

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 based on sermons that he had delivered from the pulpit as a result of what he considered a religious duty to preach on God-given freedoms and about governmental human rights violations.

On February 9, 2023, Álvarez was taken out of prison and transferred to the airport to be expelled from the country. Nicaraguan authorities did not inform Bishop Álvarez why he was being placed on a plane or where he was being sent. Álvarez refused to board the flight. The next day, he was convicted after a trial that he did not know was taking place, and at which he was therefore unable to testify or 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 was held in prison for nearly 11 months, deprived of contact with legal representation. Reliable sources attested to the gruesome conditions Álvarez suffered in prison, including being kept in total isolation in a maximum-security cell called “El Infiernillo” for several weeks.

Mounting international pressure

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. The bishop was finally convicted in a trial at which he was not present.

There was no further effective legal recourse available to him in Nicaragua, which is why ADF International filed a petition on his behalf before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding violations of his rights to religious freedom, freedom of expression, and right to due process, amongst others. Despite his liberation, his case continues before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in hopes of achieving justice for the bishop and setting a positive precedent for others facing similar trials in Nicaragua.

In November 2023, Members of the US House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations hosted a hearing titled “An Urgent Appeal to Let Bishop Álvarez go”. Witness and expert testimony were provided on the ongoing human rights crisis in Nicaragua. ADF International also submitted a statement regarding legal abuses during his sham prosecution and broader human rights violations of his case.

Bishop Álvarez’ ordeal prompted numerous bodies including OAS member states, UN special rapporteurs, a UN expert group, the European Union, and the U.S. State Department to call on Nicaragua to comply with its human rights obligations and release Álvarez and other members of the Catholic clergy.

“The international community celebrates the release of Bishop Álvarez, but will continue to denounce the detention of others who remain imprisoned in Nicaragua because of their faith,” continued Hjelkrem.

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