Nicaragua arrests second bishop as crackdown on Catholic church intensifies

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega delivers a speech during an extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People's Power of Cuba in commemoration of the 18th anniversary of the creation of ALBA-TCP at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba, December 14, 2022. Yamil Lage/Pool via REUTERS

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega delivers a speech in Havana, Cuba on December 14, 2022.Yamil Lage/ReutersCNN — 

A second bishop was arrested by Nicaraguan authorities on Thursday, two sources told CNN, amid a far-reaching crackdown on opposition figures and the Catholic Church by the government of President Daniel Ortega.

Bishop Isidoro Mora, of the Siuna church on the country’s Caribbean coast, was arrested after taking part in a mass to celebrate the anniversary of the Matagalpa church, the sources said.

CNN has reached out to the Nicaraguan government for further details on Mora’s legal situation and arrest.

One of the sources said they had witnessed the moments leading up to the arrest, telling CNN that Mora had briefly mentioned the detained bishop and vocal government critic Rolando Álvarez during a 10-minute homily.

The source quoted Mora as saying “we are here praying for Matagalpa church, praying for bishop Rolando.”

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The source added, “Unfortunately, (Mora) was arrested the next day.”

Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, is serving a 26-year prison sentence on charges including conspiracy and treason. He was sentenced after refusing to leave the country along with 200 other people who had opposed the government.

One of the sources, who asked to remain anonymous in case there was a backlash from the Nicaraguan government, told CNN Mora’s condition since the arrest was unknown.

The other source told CNN the “persecution against the church in Nicaragua is very strong. We shut up because if we say something we face threats. We know the world knows, but we suffer the pain.”

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled their homeland to avoid persecution since 2018, when Ortega’s government cracked down on widespread anti-regime protests, killing hundreds of people, injuring thousands and arbitrarily detaining many, according to Human Rights Watch.

Protesters and their families at the time sometimes sought refuge from attacks by pro-government forces inside the country’s churches and cathedrals.

Nicaragua’s authoritarian government, led by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have since viewed the Catholic church as opposition forces and labeled the protests as an “attempted coup.”

Mora’s arrest came months after two Costa Rican nuns were expelled from Nicaragua in April, also after praying for Álvarez.

“This is part of a repressive pattern against the Catholic church,” said Yader Morazán, an expert in Nicaragua’s judiciary system and a former public servant in the country.

“They have jailed dozens of priests and laymen and have expelled or blocked the return of more than 200 people, between priests and nuns,” Morazán said.

A news release Monday by state-owned website El19digital reported the arrest of 11 people linked to Christian organizations who have been accused of money laundering.

Ortega claimed a fifth term as president in 2021. In June of that year, his government began using a vague national security law as justification to lock up opposition presidential candidates and leaders, journalists and human rights activists ahead of the elections.

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