Nicaraguan police have forcibly removed a Roman Catholic bishop critical of President Daniel Ortega from his home, the church and rights group said, as the authorities said Ronaldo Alvarez is under house arrest in the country’s capital.
Alvarez, the head of the northern diocese of Matagalpa, had been under house arrest for two weeks along with five priests, one seminarian and a cameraman for a religious television channel.
“#SOS #Urgente. At this time the National Police have entered the Episcopal rectory of our Matagalpa diocese,” the diocese posted on social media early on Friday.
Police later said they had taken Alvarez to Managua, where he remains under house arrest, while the cameraman and clerics had been transferred to a prison in the Nicaraguan capital.
Pablo Cuevas, a lawyer with the non-governmental Permanent Committee on Human Rights, condemned Alvarez’s detention but said it was not unexpected.
“What was obviously going to happen has happened, the arbitrary and abusive arrest of Monsignor Alvarez,” he said in a video message.
The pre-dawn raid came after Nicaraguan authorities accused the bishop of “organising violent groups” and inciting them “to carry out acts of hate against the population”.
Authorities have detained at least three priests in recent months while others have gone into exile amid a sweeping government crackdown on Ortega’s critics in the months leading up to and following elections last November.
Dozens of opposition figures, including several who sought to challenge Ortega’s re-election bid, were detained, and many have since been sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the government has been severely strained after a harsh crackdown on anti-Ortega protests in 2018.
The action against Alvarez, 55, started with riot police preventing him from leaving home to say mass earlier this month, and days later the bishop announced he was effectively under “house arrest”.
There has been no official word on Alvarez’s apparent detention on Friday.
The Vatican also offered no comment on the raid and did not report the news immediately on its in-house media portal.
Ortega, Nicaragua’s longtime leader, won a fourth consecutive term in office after a November 2021 vote that the United States, European Union and other international observers denounced as a “sham”.
Days before the elections, Ortega accused Nicaraguan bishops of having drafted a political proposal in 2018 on behalf “of the terrorists, at the service of the Yankees … These bishops are also terrorists”.
In March, Nicaragua expelled the papal nuncio, the Vatican’s top diplomat in Nicaragua.
“With a heart full of pain and indignation, I condemn the nighttime kidnapping of Monsignor Alvarez,” exiled Nicaraguan Bishop Silvio Baez said in a tweet on Friday, calling for Alvarez to be freed and urging those with information on his whereabouts to come forward.
The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, also condemned the detentions in a statement and demanded “their immediate freedom and those of all political prisoners”.