Nicaragua: Bishop who refused exile gets 26 years in prison

Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a staunch critic of Nicaragua’s government, has been stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to a 26-year jail term.

A court in Nicaragua has sentenced Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez to over 26 years in prison, a day after the outspoken critic of President Daniel Ortega’s government declined to be expelled to the United States as part of a prisoner release.

The sentence was handed down Friday by Octavio Ernesto Rothschuh, the chief magistrate of the Managua appeals court. Alvarez was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.

The prison sentence given to Alvarez on Friday is the longest given to any of Ortega’s opponents in the last few years.

What do we know about the case against the bishop?

Alvarez was known to be one of the most vocal religious figures still in Nicaragua as Ortega intensified his crackdown on the opposition in recent years. His government has detained dozens of opponents, journalists and religious figures.

The bishop was arrested in August, when the police dislodged him after he had barricaded himself in church property for several weeks along with other priests.

A large number of Nicaraguans see the church as the last independent institution in the country, making it a threat to Ortega’s increasingly authoritarian regime.

What led up to the prison sentence?

On Thursday, the Nicaraguan government announced a surprise political prisoner release.

Around 222 individuals were freed and put on a plane to Washington. Ortega also released prisoners who he viewed as criminal agents of foreign powers who sought to undermine Nicaragua’s national sovereignty.

Alvarez, who was to be included in the release, refused to board the plane. Ortega called Alvarez’s refusal “an absurd thing.”

What has been the reaction of the international community?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, the State Department said Friday.

The two discussed the importance of constructive dialogue between the two nationsto build a better future for Nicaragua’s people, the State Department added.

The US had welcomed Thursday’s prisoner release as a “positive” step.

dvv/ar (AP, Reuters)

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