Sandinista judge Nadia Camila Tardencilla Rodriguez conducted the trial against six Catholic religious and a lay person from the diocese of Matagalpa behind closed doors. It was a hermetic political process, without the possibility of knowing the evidence presented by the Prosecutor’s Office controlled by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. It only transpired that -despite the fact that the three priests, two seminarians and the deacon used their last word to insist on their innocence citing Biblical verses- the verdict was guilty and led to a 10-year prison sentence for the alleged crimes of ” conspiracy and propagation of false news”.
These six religious and the layman were arrested along with Bishop Rolando Alvarez, the most critical voice of Catholicism in the face of human rights violations in Nicaragua, in August 2022, when a police storm broke into the Matagalpa rectory at dawn. . Although the head of the northern diocese is accused of the same political crimes, and by the same Sandinista judge, the religious under Alvarez’s tutelage were prosecuted separately and have been kept locked up in the feared El Chipote prison. The bishop of Matagalpa, the highest level Catholic leader imprisoned in Nicaragua, is kept under “house by jail.”
Judge Tardencilla also reported that the process against Monsignor Alvarez was brought forward for this coming February 15, since it was scheduled for March 28. Religious sources have agreed that this case has been at an impasse for two fundamental reasons: the first is that the Ortega-Murillos have offered the bishop “exile or jail”, but he has categorically refused to “leave his homeland”. And the second is that the Vatican has sought rapprochement with the regime, according to the president of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Carlos Herrera.
Until now, the high Catholic hierarchy and the Vatican maintain absolute silence in the face of religious persecution in Nicaragua, which already has nine priests and religious sentenced in a climate of prohibition of processions to different parishes and a growing number of exiled parish priests.
Lifetime disqualification from public office
The striking thing about the political sentence read to the religious of the Diocese of Matagalpa is that Judge Tardencilla saddles them with one more penalty, not provided for in the initial accusation: “Disqualification for life from public office or by popular election.” According to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh), it is a new repressive judicial modality against political prisoners.
“We have a list of more than 14 political prisoners to whom the same application has been made, with the aggravating circumstance that the judges, at the request of the prosecutors, without any formality, without having any power to change a letter of a sentence that it is firm, they alter its content, ”said that body in a public statement on Tuesday.
The penalty of absolute disqualification for life from holding any public office or popular election and the exercise of political rights is described by Cenidh as “the greatest aberration.” “It is the latest attack on the intelligence of Nicaraguans and the international community. For the international organizations for the protection of human rights that are permanently insisting on condemning the violations of the guarantees of due process, to which political prisoners in Nicaragua are subject,” said the organization that was also closed down by the regime.
While on the afternoon of this February 8th the daily The Press -whose newsroom was confiscated- denounced that two of its workers were sentenced to ten years in prison. The reading of the sentence lasted twenty minutes and occurred one day after Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that a “cultural center” will be inaugurated next April in the historic building of the newspaper.
“The jail sentences against six priests and a layman are incompatible with the right to freedom of expression. We call on the State to promptly release him and to respect those who express opinions against him. Criticism and dissent cannot be crimes,” said the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Twitter on February 7. A request that in El Carmen, residence and presidential office of the Ortega-Murillo, is ignored. Instead, the National Police consummated this Wednesday the confiscation of two buildings of two civil organizations that had been previously outlawed: the feminist group Venancia, in Matagalpa, and the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH), in the capital Managua.
“Our emblems and colors were erased from our building, but they will not be able to erase the crimes and torture committed by their excessive ambitions for power and their totalitarian megalomania,” said the CPDH, whose members are in exile in Miami, United States.