A Nicaraguan court sentenced Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez to more than 26 years in prison on Friday, a day after the cleric and critic of President Daniel Ortega turned down an offer to be sent to the United States as part of a prisoner release.
Alvarez was found guilty of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news, among other charges. He was bishop of the Matagalpa diocese.
The court hearing on Friday also heard that he would have to pay a fine and lose his Nicaraguan nationality.
The sentencing of the bishop, who is called “monsignor” by Catholics and was due to take place at the end of March, was brought forward without explanation.
“The Nicaraguan dictatorship’s hatred of Mons. Rolando Alvarez is irrational and out of control,” a senior Nicaraguan bishop in exile in Miami, Silvio Baez, wrote on Twitter after the verdict.
Baez said Alvarez had the “moral high ground” and predicted Alvarez would be released in the end.
Ortega’s government released more than 200 political prisoners in a surprise move on Thursday. Alvarez was one of them, but he was not on the plane bound for an airport near Washington, DC.
Ortega said on television later on Thursday that those released were criminal mercenaries working for foreign powers to violate national sovereignty. He also said that Alvarez had been sent back to prison.
In August last year, Ortega’s police took Alvarez into custody after removing him from the church where he, four other priests and two seminarians from his diocese had barricaded themselves.
A cameraman for a Catholic television station was also arrested.
Seven of the men were sentenced this month to 10 years in prison for treason and spreading false information. But on Thursday they were all on a plane to Washington.
Ortega has said that Catholic leaders tried to get rid of him when some of them worked as mediators between protest groups and the government, following protests in 2018 in which around 300 people were killed.
Since then, the former Marxist rebel government has expelled Catholic nuns and missionaries and closed Catholic radio and television stations.
After Alvarez’s arrest in August, Pope Francis called for “open and sincere” dialogue to end the conflict in Nicaragua. He said he was following what was happening ‘with concern and pain’.
Francis’ comments were the only ones he made after the 2018 protests, and he didn’t mention Alvarez by name.