Nicaraguan bishop critical of Ortega ordered to trial for 'conspiracy'

A Nicaraguan bishop who has been sharply critical of President Daniel Ortega's government was ordered Tuesday to stand trial for charges of conspiracy and spreading false news.

Rolando Alvarez, a 56-year-old bishop from the northern Matagalpa department, has been held under house arrest since August in the capital Managua.

During the pre-trial hearing Tuesday, "evidence was admitted and the case was sent to trial," the Managua court said in a press release, without specifying a date for the trial.

Alvarez was also ordered to remain under house arrest.

Alvarez was taken into custody in late August and moved to the Central American country's capital.

After his arrest, police said the bishop, who is a member of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference, was being investigated for trying to "destabilize the country."

He was not charged until December, with prosecutors alleging Alvarez had committed "crimes of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and propagation of false news through information and communication technologies to the detriment of the Nicaraguan state and society."

Along with Alvarez, at least six other clergy members were also detained and remain in a Managua jail without any official charges against them.

The charges against Alvarez come amid tense relations between the Catholic Church and the Ortega government that began in 2018, when the country was rocked by huge anti-government protests.

The president linked the demonstrations to a failed coup he said was being pushed by the opposition with the support of Washington and accused bishops of being complicit in the alleged plot.

Ortega's government last year expelled apostolic nuncio Waldemar Sommertag, outlawed the Missionaries of Charity Association, of the order of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and closed several Catholic media, including the television channel of the Episcopal Conference.

Ortega, a 77-year-old former guerrilla, has governed Nicaragua since 2007, winning three successive reelections.

The last vote took place in November 2021 with Ortega's main rivals in jail alongside dozens of other government opponents and critics.

In December, UN rights chief Volker Turk said that there was a "systematized effort to stifle opposition and dissent" in Nicaragua, while the White House in August condemned a "dramatic deterioration" of human rights in the country.

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