Ortega Ups to Nine the Number of Priests; Laymen Convicted
Priests quoted biblical verses before the Ortega judge who declared them guilty. CENIDH to Catholic hierarchy: “You cannot continue to remain silent.”
HAVANA TIMES – Behind closed doors, the Ortega justice system declared guilty six priests and a layman. They were accused of the fabricated crimes of conspiracy and of spreading fake news, in a political trial that lasted from January 23 to 26, 2023, with marathonic hearings of up to 12 hours. Hence in less than fifteen days, the Ortega regime has sentenced seven priests to prison. The first was the priest Oscar Benavides, also from the Diocese of Matagalpa. Two other priests were sentenced in 2022, and the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Alvarez, continues on political trial.
The Prosecutor’s Office asked for ten years in prison for the priests and the layman —five for each supposed crime— and a fine of 55,000 cordobas (US $1,570) a judicial source confided. The reading of the sentence is scheduled for Friday, February 3rd.
The priests condemned by the Ortega justice system are: Ramiro Tijerino Chavez, Rector of the Juan Pablo II University; Jose Luis Diaz Cruz, vicar of the Cathedral of Matagalpa, and his predecessor Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano; deacon Raul Antonio Vega; seminarians Darvin Leiva Mendoza and Melkin Centeno, as well as photojournalist Sergio Cadena Flores.
Priests convicted quoted biblical verses
The priests and the photojournalist spoke at the end of the trial to emphasize that they are innocent before judge Nadia Camila Tardencilla, in charge of the Second Criminal District Court of Managua, and one of the persecutors of prisoners of conscience. Together they quoted biblical verses.
Further details of this trial, which ended this Thursday a little after 5pm under complete secrecy, are unknown.
The first hearing was suspended after 11:00 pm on Monday, January 23; the second day of the hearing ended around 7:00 pm and this Wednesday was suspended after midnight.
According to the Court website, the Prosecutor’s Office enlisted 13 witnesses, six policemen and seven civilians to participate in the process against the priests and the photographer.
The six priests and the layman were kidnapped in August 2022, together with Monsignor Rolando Alvarez in the episcopal building of Matagalpa, which was under siege by the Police for 15 days. These religious people were moved from Matagalpa to the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), El Chipote, on August 19, after the police raided the Curia and Bishop Alvarez was put under incommunicado house arrest.
Due to the secrecy that prevailed in this case, nothing is known about the supposed evidence offered by the Prosecutor’s Office to prove the alleged facts. Days before the beginning of these trials, Confidencial confirmed that the defense attorneys did not have access to the court case files in their entirety and neither had they been able to meet with their defendants, despite the fact that it is a constitutional right.
The ruling against the priests joins the one against Father Benavides, parish priest of Mulukuku, who also was also found guilty of the same crimes by Ortega’s judge Nancy Aguirre, on January 16. Previously, the priest Manuel Garcia had been convicted for alleged physical violence and Father Leonardo Urbina for alleged sexual abuse and rape of a teenager.
Bishop Rolando Alvarez is also being prosecuted for conspiracy and fake news. On January 10th his case was referred to trial, but the date of scheduling is unknown.
CENIDH to Catholic hierarchy: “You should not continue to remain silent”
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) denounced that the guilty verdict against priests comes from El Carmen —the office and home of the presidential couple— “with the eagerness to sow terror and demonstrate who has the power.” The organization condemned the judicial action, pointing out that it represents a violation of human rights and due process guarantees.
Through its Twitter account, CENIDH also urged the Catholic hierarchy to pronounce itself on the conviction of the priests. “We ask them to react, they cannot continue to remain silent, the regime has practically imprisoned an entire Diocese,” it noted.
Who are the priests found guilty?
Priest Jose Luis Diaz: was the first vicar of the Cathedral of Matagalpa and is in charge of the Divino Nino Sanctuary. He was ordained priest on November 23, 2019, and is originally from the community “Ocote Sur,” in Matagalpa.
Priest Sadiel Eugarrios: is the second vicar of the Matagalpa Cathedral. He is 35 years old and is originally from Matiguas, Matagalpa. During the civic rebellion of 2018 he joined other priests to demand the end of the repression at a roadblock in the northern city, said the media outlet Nicaragua Investiga.
“It was our turn to defend the people and since then the threats began. From then on nothing was normal. We have to be very careful because we run into people who verbally attack us and thus one lives this priestly ministry in a different way,” said the priest.
Father Eugarrios was ordained on November 24, 2018, by Monsignor Alvarez, who pointed him out as “a prophet in the making,” “a tireless charitable soul” and “a lover of freedom to the last consequences.”
Priest Ramiro Tijerino: is the dean of the Juan Pablo II University and is in charge of the San Juan Bautista church. Since 2020 he is the new judge in the cause of canonization of Fray Odorico D’Andrea, whose pastoral work is remembered in the north of the country, mainly in San Rafael del Norte, Jinotega.
The priest fully backed Monsignor Alvarez when he took refuge in a church in Managua, in May 2022, due to the increased police persecution against him. “My solidarity was with him at all times,” the priest told Confidencial on that occasion.
The priest is 50 years old and for 20 years has exercised the priesthood. He is hypertensive and diabetic. He is also the nephew of former Sandinista guerrilla, Doris Tijerino.