IACHR Condemns Repression and Arrests of Members of Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua

August 19, 2022

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns escalating repression against members of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua and urges the State to immediately end this violence.

According to information obtained by the Commission's Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), in the early hours of August 19, the National Police forcibly raided the Matagalpa diocesan curia to arbitrarily arrest Bishop Rolando Álvarez and seven other clerics who had been at the site for 15 days, under siege by the police. The authorities had blamed the bishop for "engaging in acts of hatred" and "destabilizing the State." In public statements, the Nicaraguan vice president had also accused him of "crimes against spirituality," based on his complaints for and opposition to the confiscation and shutdown of seven radio stations operated by the Matagalpa diocese.

The IACHR calls for the immediate release of Bishop Rolando Álvarez and the other detainees, as well as for immediate details of their whereabouts and guarantees that their lives and personal integrity will be protected.

As the IACHR has said, these events have happened in a context of systematic persecution, criminalization, harassment, police hounding, stigmatizing comments by State authorities, and, more generally, acts of repression targeting members of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua, due to its mediation efforts in the national talks of 2018 and its critical position to denounce human rights violations committed in the context of Nicaragua's ongoing crisis.

The IACHR notes that, on August 17, priest Uriel Vallejos was allegedly forced to go into exile, after spending more than three days under siege by the police in the diocesan residence in Sébaco. On August 14, Óscar Danilo Benavidez, the parish priest at the Espíritu Santo church in Mulukukú, in Nicaragua's North Caribbean region, was arbitrarily arrested by riot police officers. A day later, the public prosecutor's office requested that his detention be extended by 90 days to conduct the relevant investigations. On August 14, police officers threatened priests in the municipalities of Rancho Grande and El Tuma and prevented them from travelling to Matagalpa to take part in religious ceremonies. In Managua, the National Police reportedly banned religious processions that had been scheduled for August 13 and 14, citing "internal security" reasons. Over the following days, riot police officers allegedly prevented people from accessing churches for mass in other communities around the country.

During the first half of 2022, the Commission rejected shutdowns and confiscations of assets belonging to several organizations linked to the Roman Catholic Church, including the Catholic University of Dry Tropic Farming and Livestock, several schools in the Estelí diocese, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta's Missionaries of Charity, whose members were expelled from Nicaragua. In March, the State demanded that the apostolic nuncio—who had acted as mediator in Nicaraguan talks in 2019—leave the country.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression also condemned the removal of the Canal Católico channel from cable TV networks in May, the arbitrary shutdowns of seven radio stations operated by the Matagalpa Roman Catholic diocese; and the violent police raid on the Niño Jesús de Praga chapel in Sébaco on August 1, to seize radio and TV broadcasting equipment.

The IACHR stresses that Article 12 of the American Convention on Human Rights recognizes the right of all people to freedom of conscience and religion, which entails the "freedom to profess or disseminate one's religion or beliefs, either individually or together with others, in public or in private." Article 12 of the American Convention also says that "freedom to manifest one's religion and beliefs may be subject only to the limitations prescribed by law that are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights or freedoms of others."

The IACHR renews its call on the State of Nicaragua to end constant attacks against the Roman Catholic Church. The IACHR further urges the State of Nicaragua to immediately end repression and release all the people who are being arbitrarily deprived of liberty in the country.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 184/22

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