Six priests from three different dioceses, kidnapped between October 1 and 9 by police in the service of the Ortega dictatorship, were removed from the facilities of the National Seminary Nuestra Señora de Fátima, in Managua, and were allegedly transferred to the cells of El Chipote, denounced as a torture prison for political prisoners of the Ortega regime. Two other priests detained in May and July 2023 were also transferred.
Until the afternoon of October 15, eight days after the arbitrary arrest of the six priests, their whereabouts were unknown. The only available information was that they were no longer at the seminary. However, a priest involved in the situation of the religious prisoners confirmed to CONFIDENCIAL that all priests who were detained at the seminary were transferred to El Chipote. “They were taken away. They are all in El Chipote,” he assured.
The National Police – which is the main enforcer of repression and political persecution of the Ortega government – has not yet confirmed the transfer of the priests to prison. However, defense lawyers previously told CONFIDENCIAL that the relatives of the priests had no recent information about their whereabouts, except that some of them were no longer at the seminary.
On October 6, the parish priest of the San Juan Bautista church in the city of Masaya, Harving Padilla, went into exile after sixteen months and eight days of being held in the La Purísima Archdiocesan Major Seminary in Managua. The priest managed to leave the country on September 28, although he confirmed his exile more than a week later. The transfer of the priests who were imprisoned in the seminary would have occurred a couple of days after the news of the exile of the priest from Masaya.
The latest six priests kidnapped in October
Between October 1 and 9, 2023, the dictatorship arrested six priests: Julio Ricardo Norori and Iván Centeno, from the Diocese of Estelí; Cristóbal Gadea, from the Diocese of Jinotega; Álvaro Toledo and Yessner Pineda, priests from Ocotal, and Ramón Angulo Reyes, parish priest of Wapí, in El Rama.
Until this weekend it was known that Norori and Centeno were under a type of “house arrest,” at the National Seminary Nuestra Señora de Fátima, in Managua. But defense lawyers confirmed that they were no longer there.
Prior to the confirmation of the transfer, lawyers and human rights defenders assured CONFIDENCIAL that the priests would be in a situation of “forced disappearance,” a pattern aggravated by the Ortega dictatorship in this new wave of attacks against the Catholic Church.
“The dictatorship captures them, but does not inform of their whereabouts, does not indicate if they are really detained in some prison system or pre-trial detention, so therefore, from the time of detention until the relatives can corroborate that they really are in a certain prison, they are in a state of forced disappearance, attributed solely to the State,” explained lawyer Juan Diego Barberena.
He denounced that the State becomes responsible for the physical, mental and emotional integrity of the detainees, who remain in “absolute defenselessness.”
Barberena pointed out that although the family of the detained priests can file a writ of habeas corpus, this does not have much effect on the judicial authorities. However, he recommended using it to document the illegalities against the human rights of the persons prosecuted.
Nine priests imprisoned in El Chipote
Of the thirteen priests who as of October 15 are political prisoners of the dictatorship, three were condemned for fabricated crimes in trials without the right to defense, including the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez. Two of the three convicted priests are in La Modelo prison and the third in the Penitentiary System of Granada, known as La Granja.
The remaining ten priests who are political prisoners have not been sentenced, and some of them are only known to be “under investigation.” One of them, Esteli priest Osman Amador Guillen, was transferred to El Chipote almost immediately after his capture in September. Meanwhile, there has been no information regarding priest Jaime Montecinos, from Sébaco, since his arrest was confirmed by police on May 23.
This puts the number of priests who are political prisoners in the cells of El Chipote at nine. The eight priests that were detained in early October and had previously been held at the seminary were transferred to the infamous prison, while priest Osman Amador Guillén had already been imprisoned there for more than a month.
There are no details on the legal situation of the priests
The defense lawyers confirmed that so far they have no information about the legal situation of the priests who are political prisoners. Some lawyers did not rule out that the priests may also have been transferred to the facilities of District III of the Police, in Managua, but none are certain.
Barberena maintained that the repressive pattern of arrests against priests has changed over the years of persecution. Before, the police or the Public Prosecutor's Office would report the arrest, as happened with the three priests currently convicted. That happened with Bishop Rolando Alvarez, held in a maximum security cell in La Modelo.
However, the situation changed with the rest of the priests, who were captured in police operations, transferred to Managua and their abduction was never officially reported. The cases have been known by confirmation of religious sources to the independent press.
The only exception was with priest Jaime Iván Montecinos Sauceda, pastor of the Juan Pablo II church in the municipality of Sébaco, in Matagalpa. The Police informed on May 25 of his arrest and assured that he was being investigated for treason. However, it is precisely him of whom no new information has been received since then.
The intensity of the repression in 2023 stands out for the increased attacks against the Church and all forms of the exercise of religious freedom until it reaches its maximum expression: the deprivation of freedom of priests, says Gonzalo Carrión, member of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca Más (Nicaragua Never Again).
“Once arrested, priests are subjected to isolation and isolation from their families,” he added.
According to Martha Patricia Molina, researcher and author of the study Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church, “all (the priests) are missing” as long as there is no confirmation of their whereabouts, and said that “nobody knows about them. Not even their relatives.”
The lawyer underlined that 2022 and 2023 “have been the most disastrous for the Catholic Church.” This new onslaught of the regime also reached the Catholic parishioners with arrests, police investigations and increased political surveillance in the churches. The parishioners fear that their parish priest may be the next to be kidnapped. In turn, priests live under siege, under attack and in some cases, threatened with death and jail.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.