Washington D.C., December 31, 2023.- Just hours before the close of 2023, the Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race and Equality) issues a maximum alert to the international community regarding the unprecedented raid, arbitrary detentions, and forced disappearances committed by the dictatorial regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo against members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua. Race and Equality calls for international condemnation of the detention of at least 17 religious figures in the last days of 2023 and urges the international community to exert greater pressure to compel the Nicaraguan regime to respect human rights and be held accountable for the crimes against humanity committed.
“This year-end raid is just a glimpse of the terror experienced in Nicaragua, undoubtedly foreshadowing what the year 2024 holds for this nation. The regime respects no human rights, and religious freedom is no exception. We continue to monitor and report the crimes to the Universal System and the Inter-American System of Human Rights. However, we are aware that the gravity of the situation exceeds our efforts. The international community must act urgently,” said Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of Race and Equality.
The regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, unfoundedly, has labeled the Catholic Church as a “coup plotter” since the institution’s participation as a mediator in the negotiations of the National Dialogue table to seek peaceful solutions to the socio-political crisis that began in April 2018. The attacks on the Church have escalated in violence, attempting to instill terror in Nicaraguans who practice their faith and follow their religious leaders.
In February of this year, the regime released, deported to the United States, and stripped at least eight religious figures of Nicaraguan nationality, who had been arbitrarily detained for political reasons since 2022. The regime also isolated Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos in “La Modelo” prison, sentencing him to 26 years for false charges of conspiracy and spreading fake news, and stripping him of his nationality and citizenship rights.
Additionally, in 2023, the regime severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican, de facto “institutionalized” the prohibition of religious activities, established permanent surveillance in Catholic churches, closed and confiscated the Jesuit Central American University (UCA), incarcerated and deported 12 other priests to the Vatican, and continued its “scorched earth” strategy against civil society organizations, including religious institutions. It is estimated that at least 76 nuns and 151 priests have been deported, expelled, or prevented from entering Nicaragua.
The religious victims of this year-end raid include Bishop Isidoro Mora and seminarians Alester Sáenz and Tony Palacios from the Diocese of Siuna; Monsignors Carlos Avilés, Ismael Serrano, Silvio Fonseca, Miguel Mántica, Mykel Monterrey, Jader Hernández, Gerardo Rodríguez, Raúl Zamora, and Héctor Treminio from the Diocese of Managua; Ervin López, Monsignor Jaime Ramos, and Monsignor Marcos Díaz Prado from Chinandega; Fernando Calero from Matagalpa; Monsignor Pablo Villafranca from Masaya. Currently, their whereabouts are unknown, placing them in a situation of forced disappearance.
It is noteworthy that Father Jader Guido and Monsignor Óscar Escoto from the Diocese of Matagalpa were arbitrarily detained and later released. Both are under threatening police and paramilitary surveillance.
“At this year-end, we want to express our strongest condemnation but also our solidarity and wishes of hope and resilience to the Nicaraguan people, particularly the families of the victims of arbitrary detentions and other crimes committed by the dictatorship that remain in impunity. We recognize the work of human rights defenders, including those defending religious freedom, who are tireless in their efforts. In 2024, restoring democracy in Nicaragua must be a priority on our agendas. Let’s not forget Nicaragua!” concluded Christina Fetterhoff, Race and Equality’s Director of Programs.