The Archbishop of Managua, Leopoldo Brenes, said the alleged release of the Nicaraguan prelate was all speculation.
The jailed Nicaraguan Catholic bishop Rolando Álvarezwas released but then re-arrested after refusing to leave the country, a diplomatic source in Managua told AFP on Wednesday.
Last February, Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison after refusing to board a US-bound plane carrying more than 200 political prisoners into exile. According to media reports quoted by NPR at the time, “Álvarez stopped at the stairs leading to the airplane and said, ‘Let the others be free. I will endure their punishment.’”
Now, the diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Álvarez had been released Monday but was later returned to the prison where he has been confined for the past five months.
However, the Archbishop of Managua, Leopoldo Brenes, said this was all speculation: “What has happened right now with many journalists [is that] they have released news without confirming them, creating a fuss,” Brenes told AFP, as plenty of reports (especially among Nicaraguan media in exile) had spread since Tuesday regarding Alvarez’s alleged release.
Who is Bishop Álvarez?
Álvarez has always been openly critical of Daniel Ortega’s regime. In May 2018, he was part of a team from the Bishops’ Conference that tried to mediate between Ortega and the opposition. The dialogue quickly broke down, leading to strong protests that were met with violent repression. Tensions have only increased since then.
In May 2022, he announced an indefinite fast to protest the persecution of the Church by the authorities. Finally, after protesting Ortega’s closing of several Catholic radio stations, he was put under (irregular and forceful) house arrest for “crimes against spirituality.”
In his initial hearing, Álvarez was accused of “crimes of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and propagation of false news through information and communication technologies to the detriment of the Nicaraguan state and society.”
Last February, a judge appeared on state television and said the priest had been declared a traitor and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.
The 16th edition of Religious Freedom in the World, a biannual report that Aid to the Church in Need has been publishing since 1999, this year for the first time has used the color red – indicating persecution – on a map of the Americas, singling out Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, for mistreatment of the Catholic Church there.
In the last five years alone, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has gone through more than 190 attacks and desecrations, including a fire in the Managua Cathedral, the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity, the exile and stripping of the citizenship of more than 222 former political prisoners, priests, bishops, and seminarians included, and the banning of traditional public processions of the Way of the Cross in all parishes in the country during Lent and Easter, as well as various other abuses.