“Faithful friends, come, I am being besieged,” cried out this Monday afternoon the priest Uriel Vallejos of the church of Divina Misericordia in Sébaco, an agricultural municipality located in northern Nicaragua, shortly after riot police raided the Chapel of the Infant Jesus of Prague. The officers broke locks, doors and attacked parishioners at the time of carrying out a search warrant issued by the regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife and his vice president, Rosario Murillo. The objective of the policemen, said the religious, was to assault the Catholic radio equipment of that parish.
Hours before the assault on the chapel – which began around 6:15 in the afternoon – the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications (Telcor) canceled the five Catholic radio stations under the tutelage of the Diocese of Matagalpa. The person in charge of this Catholic district is Bishop Rolando Álvarez, one of the most critical of the regime and who last May was surrounded by the police for more than a week, concluding the harassment with the censorship of the Nicaraguan Catholic Channel.
Álvarez is one of the most harassed bishops in the offensive that the presidential couple has declared against the Nicaraguan Catholic Church since 2018, when the bishops began to maintain a critical position in the face of human rights violations and the perpetuation in power of the Sandinista caudillos. The rancor with the prelates has included the forced exile of Bishop Silvio Báez and the parish priest Edwin Román; constantly besieged churches, the express expulsion of the Vatican nuncio Waldemar Sommertag last March and the recent prison sentence of two priests.
The police raid has been violent, according to witnesses: the officers “fired bullets into the air”, detonated tear gas and beat dozens of parishioners and citizens who responded to the call of the priest Vallejos. The live broadcast on a Facebook page of the raided church shows chaos and panic due to the riot crackdown. On Monday night, the number of wounded in Sébaco was not yet specified, but there is a citizen who apparently, Vallejos said, lost his eye to a pellet. The videos that already dominate social networks recall the violent police and paramilitary repression of 2018, with bullet cartridges shown by citizens as proof of the repression.
One hour after the search began, the officers broke the locks on the chapel and the roof, opening holes through which they also entered. The temple was completely occupied by the armed officers, while the priest Vallejos took refuge in the priest’s house of the church. According to testimonies from citizens collected by EL PAÍS, the special troops cut off the electricity and the scene of the assault was left in the dark.
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“The police have violated the padlocks of the chapel to enter where the (radio) equipment is to take them away. The police are attacking the faithful who are inside,” Vallejos warned on Twitter. He later he posted other messages; First: “Disrespect for our Church and our faith; They have taken the chapel. And a second that installed the uncertainty about the religious’s safety: “We are in the dark, they have cut off the light in the priest’s house.”
Bishop Álvarez challenges the Telecommunications authority
Bishop Rolando Álvarez said from the pulpit of the Matagalpa cathedral, while the police assault was taking place in Sébaco, that the current director of Telcor, Nahima Díaz, argued that the closure of Catholic radio stations is due to the fact that since 2003 they do not have the “current license”. However, the religious leader clarified that on July 7, 2016, he held a meeting with the former director of that institution, Orlando Castillo, and asked him to put them in order “according to current Telcor orders.” “We never received answers as is the government’s custom.”
“If the director of Telcor wants to receive me, I will take her, with the receipt and signature of that meeting, all the documents that I presented to them… if she is right, I myself will tell the people that it is correct that they close our radio stations. But if they are not right, they must have the courage and the courage to say that they were wrong or they have the purpose of closing our means of communication”, affirmed the bishop.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Oacnudh) called on the State of Nicaragua to stop “immediately” this “outrage” against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua. At the same time, he urged not to repress the citizenry. The one who has kept an absolute silence has been Pope Francis, criticize opponents, since this persecution is “the most serious that the Catholic Church faces in the region.”
Last June, the United States Department of State published a report on the state of religious freedom in the world and highlighted that Nicaragua is at the forefront of attacks in Latin America. “President Daniel Ortega and Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo verbally harassed priests and bishops, calling them ‘terrorists in cassocks’ and ‘coup plotters,’ and accusing them of committing crimes,” said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The canceled stations are Radio Católica de Sébaco, Radio Hermanos, Radio Nuestra Señora de Lourdes, from La Dalia; Radio Our Lady of Fatima, from Rancho Grande; Radio Alliens, from San Dionisio, and Radio Monte Carmelo, from Río Blanco. The guillotine against the radio stations also occurs at a time of total persecution of freedom of expression and the press in this Central American country.
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