Father Edwin Roman Rebukes the Trial of Bishop Alvarez

“They won’t silence the Church”

Edwin Roman

Priests, devotees and lawyers are outraged after the Ortega’s government decision to send Bishop Rolando Alvarez, to trial.

By Octavio Enriquez (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The extension of house arrest of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, after his case was sent to trial by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo on Tuesday, January 10, “is an attempt to silence the Catholic Church, but they are not succeeding,” says priest Edwin Roman, former parish priest of San Miguel Church, in Masaya, and now in exile. Alvarez is the bishop of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Esteli, both in northern Nicaragua.

Roman, one of the Nicaraguan priests who forcefully denounced the human rights abuses committed by the regime in 2018 and was subjected to harassment by the State in his parish, stated that the closeness of priests with the people is being punished.

“What is the crime? To go out in favor of the people, to be in front to defend them, because in addition to our mission to preach the gospel of God, we denounce injustice and that is what has been done: to accompany the people without distinction of religion or political beliefs,” said Roman, in an interview with Confidencial.

The Prosecutor’s Office charged the bishop on December 13, 2022, for “spreading fake news” and “conspiracy to undermine national integrity,” the same catch-all crimes with which the Ortega regime has criminalized dozens of political prisoners in its repressive escalation in violation of the public liberties of citizens.

Alvarez was taken by the authorities on January 10th to a hearing behind closed doors in the Tenth Criminal Trial Court in Managua, presided by Judge Gloria Maria Saavedra Corrales, who also determined that the Interpol arrest warrant against priest Uriel Vallejos, exiled after the stepped-up state repression against priests in 2022, will remain in force.

Judge Saavedra has a history of prosecuting prisoners of conscience. The Bishop of Matagalpa has been held in captivity in his family residence in Managua since August 19, 2022, when he was moved there by Police riot troops, after the early morning raid of the Curia in Matagalpa by orders of Ortega, who is the supreme commander of that institution.

In his most recent appearance, the tyrant denied the possibility of releasing the 235 political prisoners that his dictatorship currently holds, accusing them without evidence of perpetrating an attempted “coup d’état” in 2018, while saying that “not even with life imprisonment” would they pay off the damage done.

Actually, the international community documented 355 murders and questioned the excessive use of force at the hands of the police and armed groups sympathetic to the ruling party, denouncing the commission of crimes against humanity, which remain in impunity four years later.

The example of the bishop and the political prisoners

For Roman, although the regime wants to turn priests into opponents, what it is pursuing is to silence the last voice of denunciation in the country. He highlights the example of Monsignor Alvarez and the political prisoners who hold their heads high at every judicial hearing. “They speak with their silence,” he noted.

“Every Nicaraguan has to draw a conclusion from this: let’s not betray the political prisoners, referring to those who are divided or fighting for the best positions. The prisoners of conscience and Monsignor Alvarez tell us a lot with their steadfast courageous stance,” the priest exalted.

Alvarez’s hearing took place amid the escalation of persecution against the Catholic Church, an institution that was the target of 396 attacks between 2018 and October 2022, according to an independent investigation by lawyer Martha Patricia Molina.

That report reveals that 2022 was the year of increased repression. Alvarez and seven other priests are imprisoned, as are two seminarians and a deacon. Additionally, 11 priests are in exile, including the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, who left in 2019 on the advice of Pope Francis after threats from Sandinista fanatics.

In March 2022, the apostolic nuncio, Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, was expelled by the Ortega regime, as were subsequently 18 nuns of the Missionaries of Charity Order. The dictatorship closed radio stations and promoted a hate speech against the Church, at the same time that the dictator himself called it “the perfect dictatorship” on September 29, 2022.

So far, neither the Episcopal Conference nor the Archbishop of Managua, Cardenal Leopoldo Brenes, have made any statements on the most recent judicial decision in the case of Alvarez, permeated by arbitrariness. Not even the details of the State’s accusation are known, which is also the case with other politically prisoners whose right to defense is violated.

Lawyer Yonarqui Martinez called the initial hearing against the bishop a “sham.” She affirmed in her Twitter account that probably the draft of the judicial record was already prepared beforehand.

Public defender represents Alvarez

Legal expert Yader Morazan, highlighted on his social network accounts the defenselessness to which the bishop is being subjected, since in the hearing he was represented by the public defender Jennifer Hernandez.

Morazan explained that the judge ignored the request for the appointment of a lawyer trusted by the bishop.

Independent human rights consultant, Uriel Pineda, said that Monsignor Alvarez did not commit any crime by exercising the right to freedom of expression, referring to the accusation that he was “spreading fake news.”

He added that the court decision not to accept the appointment of Alvarez’s lawyer is undermining the bishop’s right to defense. On the other hand, he criticized that the regime sustained the house arrest, given that this precautionary measure is intended to ensure that the person presents himself to the process.

“In this sense, the imposition of a pre-trial detention or house arrest, should only be applied in cases of flight risk, of the crime being very serious. Or in case that victims could be intimidated and we do not have any of those cases,” stated Pineda, who considers that it is a violation of “presumption of innocence.”

Pineda recalled that all these proceedings —which have identified and objectified opponents— constitute human rights violations and affirmed that the judge is part of the machinery that usurps the judiciary for the execution and continuity of crimes against humanity. Bishop Rolando Jose Alvarez Lagos thus becomes the first Catholic leader to face a political trial under the current tyranny.

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