A Nicaraguan bishop who has been openly critical of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was placed under house arrest after a raid at his home on Friday was met with criticism from the Catholic church and human rights groups.
Rolando Alvarez, the bishop of the northern diocese of Matagalpa, was accused of “organizing violent groups” and inciting them “to carry out acts of hate against the population,” National Police officials said, according to the Associated Press. Seven other priests were arrested with Alvarez following the raid, which ended a 16-day stand-off between the church and government officials.
“For several days a positive communication from the Matagalpa diocese was awaited with a lot of patience, prudence and sense of responsibility, that never materialized,” the police said in a statement. “With the continuation of the destabilizing and provocative activities, the aforementioned public order operation became necessary.”
Alvarez is being held at his parents’ house in Managua, where he has been allowed to meet with relatives and a cardinal, the statement added. The raid occurred before dawn Friday.
“#SOS #Urgente. At this time the National Police have entered the Episcopal rectory of our Matagalpa diocese,” the diocese posted on social media during the raid, the outlet reported.
The arrest came amid rising tension between the country’s government and the Catholic church, Nicaragua’s predominant religion. Ortega, who was elected to his fourth term as the country’s president last year, ordered the arrest of at least three priests in recent months while others have gone into exile, according to Al Jazeera.
Ortega has also cracked down on political opponents, including arresting seven candidates who could have challenged him for the presidency last year, among dozens of other opposition leaders. The potential challengers were later sentenced to prison this year in trials that were closed to the public, according to the Associated Press.
Alvarez has long called for more fair elections in the country, becoming a powerful religious voice in 2018, when protests broke out across the country.
“We hope there would be a series of electoral reforms, structural changes to the electoral authority — free, just and transparent elections, international observation without conditions,” Álvarez said in 2018. “Effectively the democratization of the country.”
Alvarez has continued his call for fair elections in the four years since.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called for the release of all political prisoners Friday. The raid was also condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the conference of Latin American Catholic bishops, a spokesman from the Vatican, and a spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Pope Francis has not commented on the situation in Nicaragua separately.