Criminal proceedings against the family of Javier Alvarez, an opposition politician and political prisoner, resulted in prison sentences of eight years for his wife and daughter, and ten years for his son-in-law, for conspiracy and dissemination of fake news on social media. Human rights organizations have decried what they characterize as a new pattern of harassment and intimidation that targets family members of those who express dissent from the Ortega regime. Also in January, Bishop Rolando Alvarez, six other members of the Catholic Church, and another person who was accompanying their group when Bishop Alvarez was arrested last August, were found guilty of conspiracy against the state. Bishop Alvarez, who had been vocal in his condemnation of restrictions to religious freedom and the confiscation of assets and expulsion of members of the Catholic Church, had been accused by authorities of attempting to destabilize the government. Their sentences will be determined in February, but several reports indicate that President Ortega has pressured Bishop Alvarez to accept exile as an alternative to imprisonment.
On 6 November, Nicaragua held local elections to choose leadership in the country’s departments and municipalities. Members of Nicaragua’s opposition, including those living in exile, as well as civil society have characterized this process as fraudulent, given the lack of competitiveness and voter intimidation. Electoral observation civil society group Urnas Abiertas reported that abstention surpassed 80 per cent. Results from the electoral authority indicated that the incumbent party, led by Daniel Ortega, will control the totality of the country’s municipalities. This result points to a consolidation of the single-party model, with no remaining opposition-held local governments.
Continued attacks against the freedom of the press have been ongoing for years in Nicaragua, yet in another negative development, CNN’s signal was cancelled in the country. Vice-President Rosario Murillo explained this determination by stating that CNN’s content was in violation of the Constitution of Nicaragua and vulnerated national sovereignty. In addition, a journalist and three employees of La Prensa newspaper – whose staff mainly work in exile, given that its offices were shut down by the government - have been accused of conspiracy. Members of the Catholic church have condemned governmental actions that target the free exercise of religion. Members of religious orders continue to be denied re-entry to the country – including for Nicaraguan nationals - and the celebration of a religious festival that had been due to take place on 20 September has also been prohibited.
In the context of a wider crackdown on opposition, Bishop Rolando Álvarez was detained on 19 August and placed under house arrest, and seven other members of clergy were arrested and sent to El Chipote prison, known as a jail for political prisoners. President Daniel Ortega has targeted Catholic clergy since 2018 when, in the context of the mass protests of the same year, Church members offered to mediate and showed support towards the aspirations of the social movement. This comes after numerous restrictions on the work of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, including the closure of religious orders, the expulsion of members from the country and the confiscation of assets. Bishop Álvarez had been vocal in denouncing the Ortega regime’s actions against the Catholic Church, including the closure of radio stations from its Diocese. The move was condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which also called upon the government to end its wider crackdown on the Catholic clergy and respect religious freedom. Bishop Álvarez has been accused of attempting to destabilize government, and it is believed that the goal of President Ortega is to force him into exile.