UCA News

Nicaragua's government ups Catholic persecution

Three priests, two seminarians, a deacon and a diocesan journalist were found guilty in a secretive trial on Jan. 26
Bishop Rolando Álvarez in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Bishop Rolando Álvarez in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. (Photo: Vatican News)

Published: January 28, 2023 04:59 AM GMT
Updated: January 28, 2023 05:02 AM GMT

Four clergymen, two seminarians and a diocesan journalist were convicted in Nicaragua on charges of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and spreading false information, according to local media -- charges the men denied and which critics condemned as an escalation of the persecution of the Catholic Church in the Central American country.

The seven individuals -- three priests, two seminarians, a deacon and a cameraman -- were found guilty Jan. 26 in a secretive trial, in which they were denied representation by lawyers of their choice.

Fathers Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Díaz and Sadiel Eugarrios; Deacon Raúl Antonio Vega; seminarians Darvin Leiva and Melkin Centeno; and cameraman Sergio Cárdenas are expected to be sentenced Feb. 3, according to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center. Prosecutors have asked the court for sentences of 10 years in prison.

The individuals were among 11 persons arrested in August 2022 along with Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa during a predawn police raid on the diocesan offices, where they had been holed up for 16 days. The men had joined Bishop Álvarez in protesting the closure of Catholic media outlets and the increasing tyranny of the government led by President Daniel Ortega.

Bishop Álvarez has been held under house arrest since his arrest. He was ordered to face similar charges as the newly convicted Catholics at a Jan. 10 hearing in Managua, the national capital.

The bishop had previously decried human rights abuses in Nicaragua, where the Ortega regime has cracked down on dissent, rigged elections in its favor, and closed independent media outlets.

Another priest, Father Óscar Benavides Dávila, was convicted Jan. 16 on charges of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and spreading false news. Nicaraguan media reported he was the first priest convicted on such charges.

The Catholic Church came into conflict with Ortega after providing spiritual support and protection to protesters taking to the streets in 2018, demanding the president’s ouster. Priests later accompanied the families of political prisoners.

Nicaragua has closed church media outlets and charitable projects, while also expelling Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag in March 2022.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said in December that Nicaragua was holding 225 political prisoners, often in deplorable conditions.

"Human rights defenders, journalists, clergy or those perceived to be political opponents, are arrested, harassed, intimidated," Türk told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. "Some are prosecuted for the offenses of conspiracy to undermine national integrity or for 'false news.' All part of a systematized effort to stifle opposition and dissent."

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia