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The release, which occurred on Sunday, follows negotiations with the Vatican and marks a significant turn in the government's approach to political and religious opposition.
Bishop Álvarez, a vocal critic of President Daniel Ortega's dictatorial regime, had been under house arrest since August 2022 and was later sentenced to 26 years in prison on charges of conspiracy and treason.
This release comes against the backdrop of Ortega's crackdown on opposition since the 2018 protests calling for his resignation. The government has systematically targeted opposing voices, particularly focusing on the Catholic Church.
The crackdown included the confiscation of the Jesuit-run University of Central America and the closure of over 3,000 nongovernmental organizations.
In February, Ortega sent 222 prisoners to the United States in a deal brokered by the U.S. government and later revoked their citizenship.
Following their release Jan. 14, most clergy members, including Bp. Álvarez, arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon. They are now guests of the Holy See. Álvarez had refused to join a group of prisoners sent to the United States in February, insisting on consulting with other bishops first. His stance highlights the ongoing tension between the Nicaraguan government and the Catholic Church.
The Church has played a significant role in opposing the Ortega regime, with clergy members often speaking out against human rights abuses and political repression.
Pope Francis has expressed concern about the situation of the Nicaraguan clergy in the past. For example, during the Angelus at the beginning of the year, he spoke about bishops and priests "deprived of their freedom" in Nicaragua, assuring them of his "closeness in prayer."
The release of Bp. Álvarez and other clergy signifies a momentous event in Nicaragua's turbulent political and religious history. It remains unclear, however, exactly how this will impact the broader political landscape in the country, especially as the fate of other political prisoners hangs in the balance.
International organizations and human rights groups continue to monitor the situation closely.