By Bianca Jagger (Catholic Herald)
HAVANA TIMES – I would like to appeal to all people of good will to support the oppressed people of Nicaragua, my native land, where the Catholic Church is persecuted. I would like to appeal to all people of good will to support the oppressed people of Nicaragua, my native land, where the Catholic Church is persecuted.
I hope the Pope and Catholic leaders will expose dictator Daniel Ortega and his accomplice and wife Rosario Murillo for their ruthless and relentless persecution of the Catholic Church. I have watched with great concern the escalation of the regime’s impious war against the Church, bishops, priests, seminarians, members of religious orders and the faithful.
I believe it is important to support Bishop Rolando José Álvarez de Matagalpa, a vocal critic of the regime’s human rights abuses and a universally admired man of the people and now a victim of Ortega and Murillo. I was deeply alarmed and distraught when I learned that at 3:30 a.m. on Friday August 19, heavily armed police broke down the doors of the clergy house to kidnap Bishop Álvarez with his companions. Among them were four priests: Ramiro Reynaldo Tijerino Chávez, rector of John Paul II University; José Luis Díaz Cruz and Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano, first and second vicar of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Matagalpa; and Raúl Antonio Vega González.
Two seminarians, Darvin Esteylin Leiva Mendoza and Melkin Antonio Centeno Sequeira, were also arrested along with a photographer, Sergio José Cárdenas Flores. Their kidnapping was an escalation of the regime’s witch hunt against Bishop Álvarez that began on August 4 when they were held hostage in the clergy house. The Ortega-Murillo regime prevented Bishop Álvarez from celebrating mass in the cathedral. Security forces also barred members of the group from leaving the house while preventing anyone from entering the premises to bring in food, drink and life-saving medicine. Police surrounded and blocked off the house until they forced their way in, taking most of the group to a notorious prison and Bishop Álvarez to an undisclosed location.
For more than two months, Monsignor Álvarez has been held captive and incommunicado while the priests, the seminarians and the photographer continue to languish in prison. It has now emerged that the four priests are charged with the spurious and extremely serious charge of conspiracy to “organize violent groups with the aim of destabilizing the State of Nicaragua and attacking the constitutional authorities”. They are on trial and it is very unlikely that they will get justice.
The police first arrived at the clergy on August 1 with the intention of confiscating broadcasting equipment belonging to radio stations belonging to the diocese of Matagalpa and the parish of the municipality of Sébaco. The regime’s telecommunications agency incorrectly claims that radio stations did not meet technical requirements to be on the air, but did not specify what those requirements were. Following the confiscation and closure of radio and television stations, Bishop Álvarez, as radio coordinator, was forced to announce the closure of the church’s radio stations and television networks . The regime has particularly targeted Bishop Álvarez because he has a powerful and prophetic voice and has shown courage in speaking out against Ortega’s systematic and serious human rights violations. This is a regime that will not tolerate any political opposition or dissenting voices, however moderate and gentle those voices may be.
That same day, a few kilometers from Matagalpa, the police arrived to confiscate radio equipment belonging to the parish. The faithful prevented the officers from seizing the radio equipment and many ordinary Catholics were beaten, injured and detained near the church and the priest’s house. The priest, Father Uriel Vallejo, was locked up in the presbytery of the municipality of Sébaco, where he had been detained and surrounded by a large number of police officers. Fr. Vallejo’s call for help remains etched in my memory.
“Don’t leave me alone,” he pleaded from his Twitter account.
Two fundamental pillars of Nicaraguan democracy – the Catholic Church and the independent media – have been virtually trampled underfoot by the Ortega-Murillo regime. Ortega accused them of being complicit in an alleged coup in 2018, a spurious allegation that has never been proven. To silence and scare citizens, Ortega and Murillo launched an unprecedented crackdown on press freedom by shutting down and confiscating some of Nicaragua’s most important independent media such as El Diario LA PRENSA, Confidencial, Canal 💯por Ciento Noticias and Radio Dario.
In 2018, journalist Ángel Gahona was shot while broadcasting a protest against Ortega. Eleven media workers and managers have been imprisoned in the past four years (eight of whom are still incarcerated). More than 140 journalists were forced into exile and a national television channel, Canal 12, was placed under embargo and forced to withdraw from its usual programming.
Ortega and Murillo’s war on civil society led him to arbitrarily revoke the legal status of more than 2,250 NGOs in a sweeping purge of civil society, human rights and humanitarian organizations, including several religious organizations that provided support to the poorest sections of the population. .
More than 200 political prisoners remain incarcerated and are victims of torture, and as of July 6, a total of 18 Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Saint Teresa of Calcutta, have been expelled simply for speaking out against the Ortega’s brutal regime and advocated for freedom and democracy.
As a result of Church persecution, one of our most beloved and respected pastors, Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez of Managua, was forced to leave the country and Father Edwin Román had to flee to live in exile in the United States, where they now both reside. A total of seven priests are in prison. Countless other priests have had to flee Nicaragua, and we don’t know how many more will be forced to do so.
Following the non-violent and widespread anti-government protest in April 2018, Ortega launched an attack on all dissenting voices and his regime became increasingly brutal. Since the protest, nearly 400 Nicaraguans have been killed as a result of state violence, as attested by reputable international human rights organizations, which have concluded that crimes against humanity were committed. perpetrated by the Ortega regime.
I would like to appeal to church leaders around the world to raise their voices and stand in solidarity with all the oppressed people of Nicaragua. Unspeakable crimes are committed. We can no longer let innocent people die. Impunity reigns in the country and the regime has turned Nicaragua into a police state. The regime’s persecution and hatred of the Catholic Church is unjustified and morally reprehensible.
I understand the enormous responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of any high-ranking Catholic leader in these difficult and complex times. Nicaragua is a small, poor country, but we are a people who simply aspire to live in a democracy where justice and the rule of law reign. I issued a public appeal to Pope Francis, asking the Holy Father to speak out in favor of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and to condemn the brutal persecution of Ortega.
I also respectfully call on all cardinals, bishops, priests and faithful to support the Nicaraguan Catholic Church, and in particular Archbishop Álvarez, imprisoned priests and innocent political prisoners. I believe the Catholic community could do more. I would ask for prayers, and also that the sacrifice of the mass be offered for this intention.
We must raise our voices and do all we humanly can to end this persecution.
(Bianca Jagger is Founder, President and CEO of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador for the Abolition of the Death Penalty and a member of the Board of the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA)
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