Nicaragua announced it had released Bishop Rolando Alvarez and 18 priests from prison

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaragua's government announced Sunday that it has released a prominent Catholic bishop and 18 other clergy imprisoned in a crackdown by President Daniel Ortega and handed them over to Vatican authorities.

Bishop Rolando Alvarez and other clergy have been imprisoned for more than a year, in most cases as part of Ortega's crackdown on the opposition and the Catholic Church. He had accused them of supporting the massive civil protests in 2018, which he claimed were a plot to oust him.

The government said in a press statement that the releases came within the framework of negotiations with the Vatican aimed at “enabling their journey to the Vatican.” In the past, imprisoned priests were quickly transported to Rome.

Bishop Isidoro Mora was also among those released on Sunday, Ortega's government said.

Ortega 222 prisoners sent to the United States In February, in an agreement brokered by the US government, these prisoners were later stripped of their citizenship.

Bishop Alvarez remained in prison for more than a year after being convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 26 years in prison. One of the most outspoken clerics in the country, They refused to board the February flight To the United States without being able to consult with other bishops.

In October, Nicaragua released dozens of Catholic priests imprisoned on various charges and sent them to Rome after an agreement with the Vatican.

Since suppressing popular protests in 2018 demanding his resignation, Ortega's government has systematically silenced dissenting voices and focused on the church, including Confiscation of the prestigious Jesuit-run University of Central America in August.

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The Nicaraguan Congress, which is dominated by the Sandinista National Liberation Front led by Ortega, ordered the closure of the crossing. More than 3,000 NGOsIncluding the Mother Teresa Charitable Foundation.

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