On the evening of February 9, 2023, hours after refusing to join 222 other political prisoners on the airplane carrying them to permanent banishment, Monsignor Rolando Alvarez was transferred from house arrest to the El Modelo prison in Tipitapa, Nicaragua. Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega called the religious leader “arrogant,” “unhinged,” and “a raving lunatic.” The following day, under his orders, judge Nadia Tardencilla sentenced the prelate to 26 years and four months in prison.
That’s the last official information on the bishop. From that time on, the government has allowed him no contact whatsoever with the outside world. To human rights advocates, that classifies him as a case of “forced disappearance.”
The International Penal Court’s Rome Statute defines forced disappearance as the “apprehension, detention or abduction of persons by a State or a political organization (…) followed by their refusal to admit this deprivation of liberty or to give information regarding their whereabouts.” The intention is to leave the detained person beyond any legal recourse for a prolonged period, it indicates.
Yader Valdivia, with the Nicaragua Nunca + [“Never Again Nicaragua”] Human Rights Collective, explains that, legally, Ortega’s declarations don’t substitute for a judge’s functions when executing a sentence; that judicial official is obligated to notify the religious leader’s defense team of his current whereabouts.
Although Ortega affirmed that Monsignor Alvarez was transferred to the La Modelo prison, Valdivia points out, his relatives haven’t seen him, nor have they been offered any information regarding his situation.
Another criminal lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that the regime is violating Article 70 of Nicaragua’s Law 473, the Law for Penitentiary Procedures and Execution of Criminal Penalties. That statute recognizes the prisoners’ right to have communications with, and receive visits from, their relatives, close colleagues, and lawyers, “with no restrictions.”
In February, sources linked to the Catholic Church revealed to Confidencial that Alvarez – previously bishop of the Matagalpa diocese and apostolic administrator of the Esteli dicese – was being held in a maximum security cell in La Modelo. If that is true, he has the right to one monthly visit, but even this hasn’t been respected.
Over 207 days held kidnapped by the regime
To investigator and lawyer Martha Patricia Molina: “Nicaragua’s justice system is a political and not a judicial entity.” “They’ve acted with malice, and in an inhumane manner against Bishop Rolando Jose Alvarez, his family members, and the clergy who are also his brothers in the faith.”
The intention, the expert believes, is “to cause the greatest possible harm, because no one held in conditions of abduction can be physically and psychologically well.”
In the face of Monsignor Alvarez’ forced disappearance, these lawyers recommend that his defense team submit a writ of personal exhibition, or Habeas Corpus appeal, although in practice these appeals haven’t previously been respected by the judicial authorities. That was what happened with the political prisoners in El Chipote, who were held completely incommunicado for up to 95 days at the beginning of their imprisonment. Nonetheless, legal professionals assure that the formal appeals are needed, in order to document these violations.
The bishop has been in complete custody of the Nicaraguan government for 207 days. However, the only photos of the religious leader the Ortega regime has released were those taken in the Managua courtroom on December 13, 2022, when Alvarez was accused of the supposed crimes of conspiracy and spreading fake news. On that occasion, the Bishop had visibly lost weight after 116 days under de facto house arrest.
According to the court verdict, Alvarez was sentenced to ten years in jail for the fabricated crime of conspiracy; five years for spreading fake news; five years and four months for “aggravated obstruction of public functions”: and one year for “failure to heed authority.”
Nicaraguan clergy concerned
“I confess to you that I’m very concerned about my brother [Monsignor Alvarez], and I say so in public, above all for the latest things that have occurred,” expressed Monsignor Silvio Baez, former Auxiliary Bishop of Managua. The priest made these remarks during a Eucharist offered in Alvarez’ name on March 12, at Miami’s St. Agatha Church.
“He’s in a situation of disappearance by the Sandinista dictatorship of Ortega and Murillo in Nicaragua. We don’t know where Monsignor Rolando is, and we don’t know what situation he’s in,” Baez added.
Exiled priests Erick Diaz, formerly of the El Tuma – La Dalia parish, and Uriel Vallejos from Sebaco, both parishes in the Matagalpa diocese – asserted in an interview on the online television show Esta Noche that they know nothing about the condition of Monsignor Alvarez. “The family has mobilized to bring him food, but haven’t been allowed any access,” Father Diaz noted.
Monsignor Silvio Baez has also used his social media platforms to ask the Churches of the world to lift their voice in prayer for Monsignor Alvarez and in denunciation. And at the same time, to demand his immediate freedom. “We want him free and soon,” he declared.
The international demand for the Ortega regime to show Bishop Alvarez has had a greater echo following the recent declarations of Pope Francis. The Pope called the Ortega and Murillo government a “Hitler-esque dictatorship,” while recognizing the “witness” Bishop Alvarez offered by refusing exile.
“Here we have a bishop in prison, a very serious man, very capable. He wanted to give witness and did not accept exile,” the Pope stated in an interview with the online newspaper Infobae.
Offended by the declarations of the Pope Francis, the Ortega regime then suspended diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Analysts fear that action could be the beginning of greater repression against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times.