As the Chair of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, I express my grave concern at the unjust imprisonment of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a Bishop of the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Matagalpa and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Estelí, in Nicaragua. Notwithstanding the official reasons given by the trial court – which independent media and international human rights organizations strongly condemned and decried as spurious – I consider, and am most concerned, that Bishop Álvarez has been unjustly imprisoned for speaking up about and for denouncing human rights violations and defending freedom of religion or belief and other fundamental freedoms in Nicaragua.
I condemn Bishop Álvarez’s trial and conviction by a Managua trial court on 10 February 2023. I also condemn the court’s sentence of Bishop Álvarez to twenty-six years and four months’ imprisonment, the fine of 800 day’s salary and the court-ordered deprivation of his Nicaraguan nationality. In addition, I express my grave concern at the flagrant abuse of proper judicial process in this case and the refusal of the court to provide access to the prosecutor’s file or the court’s legal reasoning.
Prior to Bishop Álvarez’s arrest without warrant at the Episcopal Curia of Matagalpa on 19 August 2022 and his subsequent house arrest in Managua, the Curia had been surrounded by the Nicaraguan police force and Bishop Álvarez had not been allowed to leave the Curia for 15 days. The Bishop had been known to speak out in his homilies and sermons about the Nicaraguan government’s closure of several Catholic radio stations and its human rights record against citizens.
Since his conviction in February, Nicaraguan authorities have allowed Bishop Álvarez only one visit. This was made by his brother and sister in March this year at the Sistema Penitenciario Nacional Jorge Navarro in Tipitapa following international pressure. Government authorities surveilled and televised the entire visit, including an interview with the Bishop. The government has otherwise held the Bishop incommunicado, without access to his family or to his lawyer. Since his family’s visit in March, authorities have not allowed any other visits and made no further information available regarding Bishop Álvarez’s well-being. It is not even known whether the Bishop is still alive
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has granted precautionary measures in favour of Bishop Rolando Álvarez and his family, whom it deems to be at serious, urgent risk of suffering irreparable harm to their human rights. If complied with, these measures would allow for more regular visits from his family and require improvements in his prison conditions. However, the Nicaraguan Government and its authorities have failed to implement the recommended precautionary measures.
I strongly urge the Nicaraguan authorities to release Bishop Álvarez immediately and unconditionally, and to drop all charges against him so that he may freely return to his pastoral work in Nicaragua.
I also express my grave concern about the Nicaraguan Government’s more general persecution of the Catholic Church and of many other people and organisations in Nicaragua who have bravely spoken out against, and sought to draw attention to, multiple and serious violations of human rights by the State and its agents. I strongly urge the Nicaraguan authorities and their supporters to desist from all such abuses, to release all those wrongly deprived of their liberty, and to restore and uphold the human rights and freedoms of all Nicaraguans.