Nicaraguan bishop goes on hunger strike to protest police harassment

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MEXICO CITY – A Roman Catholic bishop in Nicaragua began an “indefinite hunger strike” inside a church on Friday in protest of increasing harassment from national police, who he said followed him throughout the day.

Rolando Alvarez, Bishop of Matagalpa and a fierce critic of President Daniel Ortega’s government, said in a video released by his diocese that police violated his “family privacy circle” when he met a niece.

Just months before his re-election in the fourth consecutive term last year, the Ortega government arrested dozens of political opposition leaders, including most of the potential candidates. His government has shut down dozens of private companies accused of working for foreign interests to destabilize his government. Thousands of Nicaraguans have been deported.

The Catholic Church remained influential, but Ortega did not escape the wrath. He accused its priests of being “terrorists and conspirators of the coup” and accused them of participating in his “failed coup.”

Alvarez was one of the bishops who supported the protesters in a massive street protest that began in April 2018 and called for Ortega to resign. Since then, Alvarez’s advice has often been to criticize the government and demand the release of political prisoners.

At least 355 people were killed in the crackdown, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Alvarez said in the video on Thursday night, “Today the Sandinista police have been following me all day, from this morning to this hour of the night, at every moment, during all the movements of my day.”

Alvarez said he confronted his followers and was told they were just “following orders.” Instead of retreating, police followed him through the night, “putting my family’s safety at risk.” He then decided to take refuge in a church southeast of the capital, Managua, and began his fast.

The bishop said he would fast until police told church leaders they would respect his family’s privacy. “The insecurity in this country is the police, who make us feel insecure in this persecution,” he said.

Police have not publicly responded to Alvarez’s allegations. In recent months, the bishop has condemned the harassment and intimidation of Sandinista workers against himself and his closest associates.

Alvarez received support on Friday from Silvio Beaz, a former auxiliary bishop of Managua who left Nicaragua in 2018 after receiving death threats.

Other priests have reported similar harassment this week. In the northern city of Sebako, Rev. Uriel Valezos said he took pictures while walking around town and was stopped by police.

Rev. Rev., a parish priest in Masayar, south of the capital. Harving Padilla says police are keeping him under constant surveillance. Police on Tuesday arrested opposition leader Ubranak Suazo for civic alliance after he denounced harassment of Padilla. Suazzo previously went to jail in 2018.

In early May, the Nicaraguan Congress, which is influenced by Ortega’s party, said it was considering sending priests to jail for questioning the government. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, said at the time that the church was not an “enemy” of the government and that he would continue to “pray for those who slandered us.”

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