Communist Nicaragua Jails Priests for 10 Years on ‘Fake News’ Charges

The four sentenced priests are Ramiro Tijerino, rector of the John Paul II University and

A judge in Nicaragua sentenced four Catholic priests to ten years in prison on “treason” and “fake news” charges on Monday, the latest salvo on the Sandinista regime’s ongoing war against the Catholic Church.

The four sentenced priests are Ramiro Tijerino, rector of the John Paul II University and head of San Juan Bautista parish; José Luis Díaz and Sadiel Eugarrios, first and second vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral of San Pedro, respectively; and deacon Raúl Vega González.

In addition to the four priests, Catholic seminarians Darvin Leiva Mendoza and Melkin Centeno, and Catholic television channel cameraman Sergio Cárdenas, received similar sentences.

The regime of dictator Daniel Ortega, a communist closely aligned with the reimges of Cuba and Venezuela, arrested the men in August 2022 during the raid of the Matagalpa parish. Regime security agents detained the parish’s bishop, Rolando Álvarez, after Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo accused Álvarez of committing “sins against spirituality” by condemning the communist leadership of the country.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez’s trial is scheduled to take place on February 15 after the Ortega regime rescheduled the trial from its original date of March 28.

In addition to the ten-year sentences, the regime banned those arrested from public service and stripped them of “citizenship rights” permanently.

The latest batch of condemnations follows, similarly, the sentencing of Nicaraguan priest Óscar Benavidez to ten years in prison under similar charges in a separate trial. Benavidez was also among those arrested in the Matagalpa parish raid.

The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), a non-government organization, described the judge’s ruling and the lifetime bans imposed on the priests as a “legal aberration.”

“We denounce before the world not only this aberration committed against the seven members of the Diocese of Matagalpa, [but] this new repressive action [that] has begun to be applied by several judges, at the request of prosecutors in previous cases,” CENIDH said in its statement. The organization noted that it had documented over 14 political prisoners receiving similar lifetime bans from politics and suspensions of their political rights.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) made calls for the liberation of the priests and layman sentenced by the Ortega regime on Tuesday.

“The jail sentences against six priests and a layman are incompatible with the right to freedom of expression,” the United Nations agency denounced in a statement published to its Twitter account. “We call on the State to promptly release him and to respect those who express opinions against him. Criticism and dissent cannot be crimes.”

For more than four decades, Nicaragua’s Catholic church has stood firm as a bastion of opposition against the Sandinista regime and dictator Daniel Ortega, who has systematically curbed dissent and opposition to his authoritarian rule.

The already tenuous relationship between the Catholic Church and the Ortega regime became severely strained following the events of the April 2018 protests in Nicaragua, which counted on the support and mediation of the Catholic Church.

In response, Ortega branded the Nicaraguan Catholic Church’s leadership “terrorists.” The Ortega regime’s fierce persecution of the Church greatly intensified in 2022, with the banishment of the papal nuncio, nuns, and other members of the church; the banning of a handful of traditional Catholic processions and festivities; and the forced shutdown of Catholic radio stations and television channels.

In September, Ortega accused the Vatican itself of being run by “terrorists” and the Church of being “undemocratic” and a “dictatorship.”

Nicaraguan news website Artículo 66 reported on Tuesday that the Ortega regime denied the request of the priests’ lawyers to allow them access to their Breviary liturgical book. 

Human rights groups estimate that the Ortega regime maintains 245 confirmed political prisoners as of January 2023, though the true number is likely to be much higher.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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