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Nicaragua police have accused the Catholic Church of trying to destabilize the government

#Nicaragua #police #accused #Catholic #Church #destabilize #government

Nicaraguan police on Friday accused the Catholic Church and Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who has been under siege at his residence for two days, of inciting violence to destabilize the country.

Police said in a statement the church and Alvarez, a vocal critic of President Daniel Ortega, are trying to organize violent groups and incite them to commit acts of hate against the government, adding that an investigation has been launched.

Alvarez, along with a number of priests and laity, have been holed up at the bishop’s residence in the northern city of Matagalpa since Thursday when riot police prevented him from saying mass.

It’s the latest incident in a rapidly deepening standoff between civil society and a government accused of growing authoritarianism.

The 55-year-old bishop condemned the official “harassment” in a video released Thursday and urged the government to respect freedom of religion.

Police accused those hiding in the residence of “provoking an atmosphere of fear and disorder, disturbing community peace and harmony, with a view to destabilizing the state of Nicaragua and attacking the constitutional authorities.”

The church in Nicaragua has come under increasing government pressure since opposition protests in 2018 met repression that left 355 dead, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Ortega, who claims the protests were part of a Washington-backed opposition plot to unseat him, has accused bishops of complicity and said protesters used church buildings as “barracks.”

Churches offered shelter to protesters who were injured or went into hiding.

Blocked from going to his church four blocks away on Friday, Alvarez chose to conduct Mass from the residence and stream it live on Facebook.

“The street in front of our vicarage is blocked by the state police. And the main gate and the garage are also blocked by the riot police. But even in this situation we keep our joy, our strength and our inner peace,” Alvarez told the faithful.

– “Violation of Freedom” –

The siege came just days after Alvarez denounced the authorities’ closure of five radio stations in his Matagalpa diocese.

This followed the closure of several Catholic news channels in June.

The European Union on Thursday condemned the “arbitrary” closure of Catholic and community broadcasters, saying “excessive police force was used to occupy the facilities and to intimidate and disperse unarmed protesters”.

EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement that this was a “further violation of freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief.”

Ortega, a 76-year-old former guerrilla fighter, has ruled Nicaragua since 2007 and won three consecutive re-elections.

The last vote took place in November 2021, with several of Ortega’s main competitors joining dozens of other government opponents and critics in prison.

According to the EU, there are more than 180 “political prisoners” in Nicaragua.

In the first half of 2022, the bloc said, Nicaraguan authorities shut down over 1,200 civil society organizations.

The Vatican said Nicaragua expelled its ambassador from the country in March.

A charity founded by Mother Teresa was banned in July and her nuns were forced to leave the country.

Matagalpa parishioners held a prayer service for Alvarez on Friday.

“The church is persecuted just for preaching the gospel, just for that, because we just pray, praise and glorify the Lord,” parishioner Maria Ruiz told AFP.

Nicaraguan mainstream media have also accused Ortega’s government of a level of harassment that has forced media personnel to flee abroad.

Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists asked Nicaragua to “stop raiding journalists’ homes and allow the media to work freely.”

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#Nicaragua #police #accused #Catholic #Church #destabilize #government

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