At congressional hearing Smith calls on Vatican and White House to take immediate action in response to brutal crackdown on Catholic Church in Nicaragua
Key witness Bianca Jagger raises concern over condition of Nicaraguan Bishop Álvarez just days after he was targeted with trumped-up charges
At a bipartisan congressional hearing chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), human rights activists today sounded alarm bells over the brutal crackdown on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, calling on the Vatican and White House to speak out and take immediate action in response to the extreme anti-Catholic persecution being perpetrated by Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship.
The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing—entitled “The Perilous State of Religious Freedom in Nicaragua”—comes just days after Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of the Ortega regime, was brought before a Nicaraguan court and formally charged with trumped-up charges of “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” and “spreading false news through informational technologies.”
“The egregious war being waged by the Ortega regime against religious freedom—especially against the Catholic Church and an extraordinarily brave Catholic leader, Bishop Álvarez—deserves greater recognition, not only from the Biden Administration but also and especially the Vatican,” said Rep. Smith, Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
“As we have seen in so many countries—from Poland during the days of the Iron Curtain to China under the brutal dictatorship of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party’s most recent persecution and conviction of Cardinal Joseph Zen, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo today—the faith community and the Catholic Church in particular has often been the strongest institutional voice against tyranny,” said Smith.
“The Vatican and the Biden Administration must raise their voices and take concrete action to hold Ortega to account for his horrific crimes against the people of Nicaragua,” said Smith, who later added that “it is unconscionable that we have not done everything we can to stop international loans from going to prop up this dirty dictatorship.”
Headlining the panel of witnesses was Bianca Jagger, who raised concerns over Bishop Álvarez’s condition when he appeared in court earlier this week: “He was exhibited sitting on the defendant’s chair, looking physical deteriorated, having lost weight, looking pale and stropped of his soutane.”
“For 131 days, Bishop Álvarez was held captive, isolated and incommunicado in an undisclosed location with no formal accusation, access to legal defense and with a seriously deteriorating health for predicating peace and spreading the gospel,” Jagger said.
Also offering expert testimony at the hearing was Eddy Acevedo, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who said “the United States government has tools available to bring about change, protect human rights, block financing to a dictatorial regime, and help Nicaraguans bring peace, stability, and economic prosperity back to their country.”
More than 236 political prisoners—including many priests, seminarians and lay Catholic journalists—are believed to be incarcerated by Ortega, who has reportedly referred to priests as “killers,” “terrorists,” “coup plotters” and accused the clergy of working on behalf of “American imperialism.”
Despite widespread protests since April 2018 calling for Ortega’s resignation and other democratic reforms, the Nicaraguan dictator remains in office while hundreds of people have been killed, imprisoned or have fled the country.
“The Ortega-Murillo regime is escalating their unholy war against the Catholic Church,” said Jagger. “The people of Nicaragua will continue to be terrorized by this dictatorship if concrete and effective actions are not taken.”