IACHR Welcomes Release from Prison of Bishop Rolando Álvarez and Other Priests But Rejects Their Expulsion from Nicaragua

January 18, 2024

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the release from prison of 19 members of the Roman Catholic Church who had been arbitrarily deprived of liberty in Nicaragua. At the same time, the Commission rejects their expulsion from the country and calls on the State to end religious persecution and to release all remaining political prisoners.

On January 14, the Nicaraguan government announced the release from prison of two Roman Catholic bishops, 15 priests, and two seminarians, as well as their transfer to the Vatican State. One of these bishops was Rolando Álvarez Lagos, a beneficiary of provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, at the IACHR's request, to protect his life and integrity. The request for those provisional measures had been based on the lack of medical care and the deterioration of his physical and mental health as a result of the serious, inhumane conditions of detention and the isolation he was being kept in inside maximum-security cells in the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary Facility, also known as "La Modelo".

Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who had been arbitrarily deprived of liberty since August 2022, was sentenced to 26 years in jail in 2023, without a trial and without the required procedural guarantees. At the time, he was banned from the exercise of public office and he was arbitrarily deprived of Nicaraguan nationality for life, for allegedly having committed crimes including attacks on national integrity, dissemination of fake news, disobedience, and contempt of authority. Since the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua started in 2018, Bishop Álvarez has been one of the most critical voices denouncing the worsening conditions and the serious human rights violations in the country. He also played a leading role in the mediation efforts of the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference during the talks that followed social protests and he constantly demanded the release of all political prisoners.

As the IACHR said in its report Closure of civic space in Nicaragua, persecution against the Roman Catholic Church continues to worsen. It includes actions like arbitrary arrests, incarcerations, and expulsions of priests and nuns, without the guarantees of due process; bans on holding masses and other religious ceremonies; and shutdowns of radio stations, schools, and universities linked to several Roman Catholic congregations. Since October 2023, Nicaragua has banished from its territory 29 priests and two seminarians.

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." The IACHR stresses that open, free, and plural civic platforms are essential to ensure that all individuals have the freedom to profess, express, and practice their religion or beliefs without discrimination.

The Commission urges the State of Nicaragua to stop repressing religious freedom and persecuting the Roman Catholic Church, and to release all individuals who are being arbitrarily deprived of liberty.

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. 

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