Nicaraguan Priests Get 10 Years in Prison on False Charges
The Ortega regime has tried and sentenced nine religious leaders between 2022 and the first month of 2023. Seven of these cases have been for crimes considered political.
HAVANA TIMES – On February 3, Ortega-allied judge Nadia Camila Tardencilla Rodriguez, who presides over Managua’s Second District Criminal Court, sentenced six priests and a lay worker to ten years in jail each for the fabricated crimes of conspiracy and spreading fake news. The trial took place behind closed doors, in a courtroom of Nicaragua’s capital.
The priests who were condemned to prison by the Ortega regime are: Father Ramiro Tijerino Chavez, dean of the Juan Pablo II University; Father Jose Luis Diaz Cruz, vicar of the Matagalpa Cathedral; his predecessor, Father Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano; Father Raul Antonio Vega, a deacon; seminary students Darvin Leiva Mendoza and Melkin Centeno. Also found guilty and sentenced with them was the photojournalist for the Matagalpa diocese, Sergio Cardenas Flores.
The seven political prisoners were declared guilty on January 26, by a judge who forms an integral part of the Ortega regime’s spurious legal machinery. This system involves Ortega-allied judges charged with putting a legitimate facade on bogus trials where the outcome has been predetermined, according to legal experts. In this case, the verdict was declared after four days of marathon hearings that began on January 23.
In these first five weeks of 2023, the Ortega’s courts have declared guilty and sentenced seven religious leaders for the same crimes of conspiracy and fake news. The first was Father Oscar Benavides, parish priest of Mulukuku, in the eastern region of Nicaragua. Father Benavides had worked in the Matagalpa diocese, along with the rest of the religious leaders.
During the eight days of the trial, many of the details of the hearings aren’t known due to the hermetic secrecy imposed by the Ortega regime and the echoing silence of the Catholic hierarchy.
Judicial sources revealed that the priests and the photojournalist made use of their closing statements in the hearing to declare their innocence and also to cite passages from the Bible.
According to the online Court system, the prosecution called thirteen witnesses: six police and seven laypersons, to testify against the priests and the photographer.
In August 2022, the six priests and lay reporter were forcibly confined by police and held for 15 days inside the Matagalpa curia, together with Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, Matagalpa’s bishop. On August 19, the police stormed the Curia and took the six priests and the photographer to the infamous El Chipote jail in Managua. Monsignor Alvarez was placed under house arrest and remains a political prisoner.
Two more priests scheduled to face trial
The Ortega-Murillo regime have continued their legal farce against Monsignor Alvarez. He was sent to a closed door trial on January 10 and mandated to continue under house arrest, where he had remained since August 19th. According to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, the trial against the Bishop had been scheduled for March 28. However, sources now claim it has been moved up to February 15. The presiding judge, Nadia Tardencilla, has been the one to declare the other religious leaders guilty and to sentence them to lengthy prison terms.
The other pending trial is against Father Enrique Martinez Gamboa, who was violently arrested in his home on October 22, 2022. The date of the trial hearing remains unannounced, according to a source close to the case.
In 2022, the Ortega judicial steamroller also found Fathers Manuel Garcia and Leonardo Urbina guilty of supposed common crimes. The former was sentenced to four years eight months in prison, and the latter to 30 years.
Leaders of the Catholic Church have maintained utter silence regarding both the above cases and the latest prison sentences for the religious leaders from Matagalpa. Their muteness has been questioned by other priests, parishioners and human rights defenders, who say these superior authorities stand before an avalanche of aggression against the religious institution on the part of the Nicaraguan government yet have failed to speak out.