Nicaragua: Five Priests Sentenced to 10 Years for Conspiracy

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Five Catholic priests were sentenced to 10 years in prison in Nicaragua on charges of "conspiracy", in the latest attack against the Catholic Church in the Central American nation.

A civil group of lawyers representing the religious reported on Tuesday the sentences and announced that it is expected that in the next few days a sentence will also be handed down against Bishop Rolando Álvarez, 56, and known for his positions critical of the president's government. Daniel Ortega.

The Nicaraguan authorities have accused members of the Catholic Church of supporting protests by opponents of the Ortega government, who has been the target of criticism from various organizations and governments for considering that for years he has used various methods against any dissent in that country, including the arrests. His critics maintain that the Judicial and Legislative powers are bent on what the president says.

Four of the priests were sentenced on Monday and one more on Sunday in Managua in hearings held behind closed doors, the group of lawyers, called the Legal Defense Unit (UDJ), reported in a statement.

Judge Nadia Tardencilla issued the sentence on Monday for "conspiracy" against the priests Ramiro Tijerino, rector of the Juan Pablo II University; José Luis Díaz and Sadiel Eugarrios, first and second vicar of the Cathedral of Matagalpa, respectively; in addition to against the priest Raúl Vega. Two seminarians and a cameraman received the same sentence under the same accusation.

All of them have been held since last year in the El Chipote police jail in Managua, and they were also disqualified in perpetuity from their citizenship rights to run for public office or by popular election.

On Sunday, the priest Óscar Danilo Benavidez, parish priest of the northern town of Mulukukú and detained since August 14, was the first to be sentenced to 10 years for "conspiracy to undermine national integrity" and "propagation of false news ”. The sentence was issued by another judge, identified as Nancy Aguirre.

In all cases, the hearings were held behind closed doors and with defense attorneys appointed by the State, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), which described the sentences as a "legal aberration."

The "perpetual ban" from holding public office imposed on the convicted was also questioned by Cenidh. "This is an affront to the Law, an affront to intelligence, an affront to the international community and international organizations for the protection of human rights," she said in a statement released on Tuesday.

The Ortega government arrested dozens of opponents in 2021, including seven potential presidential candidates, who were sentenced to prison terms that were also behind closed doors.

Ortega has maintained that the opposition protests are carried out with the support of foreigners and the Catholic Church.

In the midst of these accusations, the authorities arrested Monsignor Álvarez, the first bishop subjected to criminal proceedings in Nicaragua since Ortega returned to power in 2007. He is under house arrest in Managua, under strict police surveillance.

Álvarez had spent 15 days under siege by the police last August in the diocese of Matagalpa, together with his collaborators now imprisoned and convicted. On that occasion, the Police said they were being investigated for allegedly "organizing violent groups." Almost simultaneously, the government ordered the closure of six radio stations attached to the Catholic Church in Matagalpa, 130 kilometers north of Managua.

In August, Pope Francis expressed his concern about the situation in Nicaragua and called for dialogue in that country, although he did not specifically comment on the attacks against the Catholic Church.

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