Nicaraguan bishop who refused exile gets 26 years in prison

MEXICO CITY — Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of Nicaragua’s government, was sentenced to 26 years in prison and stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, the latest move by President Daniel Ortega against the Catholic church and his opponents.

A day after he refused to get on a flight to the United States with 222 other prisoners, all opponents of Ortega, a judge sentenced Álvarez for undermining the government, spreading false information, obstruction of functions and disobedience, according to a government statement published in official outlets.

The sentence handed down by Octavio Ernesto Rothschuh, chief magistrate of the Managua appeals court, is the longest given to any of Ortega’s opponents over the last couple years.

Álvarez was arrested in August along with several other priests and lay people. When Ortega ordered the mass release of political leaders, priests, students and activists widely considered political prisoners and had some of them put on a flight to Washington Thursday, Feb. 9, Alvarez refused to board without being able to consult with other bishops, Ortega said.

Nicaragua’s president called Álvarez’s refusal “an absurd thing.” Álvarez, who had been held under house arrest, was then taken to the nearby Modelo prison.

Álvarez had been one of the most outspoken religious figures still in Nicaragua as Ortega intensified his repression of the opposition.

Nicaragua’s Episcopal Conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sentence. Reached by the AP, Managua vicar Mons. Carlos Avilés said he hadn’t heard anything official. “Maybe tomorrow.”

The church is essentially the last independent institution trusted by a large portion of Nicaraguans and that makes it a threat to Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian rule. (AP)