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Jailed by Sandinistas

A Catholic bishop gets 26 years in prison for speaking the truth

Bishop Rolando Álvarez attends a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 3, 2018. Associated Press/Photo by Moises Castillo

Jailed by Sandinistas
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Nicaragua was once a fledgling democracy full of possibility. In 1990, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Nicaraguan voters ousted the Soviet-aligned Sandinista government, ushering in a new era of peace and political reform. Unfortunately, those reforms were short-lived. In 2006, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega returned to power—and it appears he has no intention of letting go. Now in his fifth term in office, he is systematically dismantling the freedoms of his people in order to entrench himself in power for life.

In the last decade, Ortega has abolished presidential term limits, installed his wife as vice president, rigged elections, and used his office to enrich his family. He has also brutally cracked down on dissent. His police have attacked protestors, jailed his opponents, and shut down radio stations. Shamelessly, the regime has also taken aim at the Roman Catholic Church, which has become the last remaining vehicle for dissent. Priests have been harassed and beaten. Sermons have been censored. And now Bishop Ronaldo Álvarez, a leading Catholic prelate in Nicaragua, sits behind bars because he dared to call out the government’s abuses.

Bishop Álvarez has been a model of joyful conviction in the face of repression. Following the regime’s violent crackdowns on protesters in 2018, he began preaching on God-given human dignity and calling out the regime’s abuses. Before long, police began to follow him and harass his family. In May 2022, he announced he would go on a hunger strike until the harassment stopped—but it only got worse. The government soon barred him from celebrating mass, placed him under house arrest, and charged and convicted him in a sham trial he didn’t even know was occurring. The Orwellian charges levied against him included “undermining national integrity” and “propagation of false news through information and communication technologies.”

Bishop Álvarez could have fled to exile in America when the regime offered him the opportunity. But in a remarkable act of solidarity with his people, he chose to stay in Nicaragua. The regime then declared him a “traitor,” stripped him of his citizenship, sentenced him to 26 years and four months in prison, and fined him nearly $5,000. Today, he is unable to communicate with his family and his lawyers, and he is likely in solitary confinement. Since all effective means of legal recourse in Nicaragua have been exhausted, ADF International has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect his rights and secure his release.

Tyrants are always threatened by courage because it is contagious—it inspires and emboldens others to speak the truth, even at great cost to themselves.

Such a display of courage and defiance poses an obvious threat to the Ortega regime. Tyrants are always threatened by courage because it is contagious—it inspires and emboldens others to speak the truth, even at great cost to themselves. This is why the Ortega regime has gone out of its way to outlaw priests from even mentioning Bishop Álvarez by name in church services. Those who do so can expect a visit from the police. In fact, just weeks ago, a priest was arrested because he prayed for Bishop Álvarez at church—a sign that courage is indeed spreading.

It's been more than 30 years since the Iron Curtain fell, bringing the promise of freedom to so much of the communist world. Yet we now live in a time when censorship is once again on the rise. In China, for instance, the government is shutting down house churches and using its dystopian social credit system to marginalize anyone who engages in disfavored activities. Likewise, Hong Kong residents are rapidly losing their freedom of speech and assembly as the city comes under the increasing control of Beijing. In India, the rise of Hindu nationalism has resulted in Christians being sent to jail simply for hosting Bible studies and praying at home. There are countless more examples.

Meanwhile, censorship is also spreading in the West as more government officials buy into the lie that speech can be inherently harmful. In Finland, for example, a longstanding member of Parliament faced a criminal trial for expressing her Christian belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. In Mexico, a congressman and former congressman both were convicted of “gender-based political violence” for publicly disagreeing with gender ideology. And in America—despite recent landmark victories for the First Amendment—we continue to see state governments trying to silence or coerce speech when it comes to pronouns, approval of same-sex unions, and Christian counseling on sexuality and gender.

Bishop Álvarez once said that his generation had to win its freedom “at the price of persecution and pain.” That is the same price we all must be willing to pay if we are going to preserve freedom in our generation. But like Bishop Álvarez, we can do it with joy and confidence that God is using us for great good. Because the truth sets people free. It exposes lies. And the courage to speak it, especially when it costs us, is a powerful witness that the world simply can’t ignore.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner is CEO, president, and general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.


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