Date: October 25, 2023
Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns the Nicaraguan government’s expulsion of ten arbitrarily detained Catholic clergymen featured in USCIRF’s Frank R. Wolf Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims List: Jaime Iván Montesinos Sauceda, Fernando Zamora Silva, Osman José Amador Guillén, Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides, Julio Ricardo Norori, Iván Centeno, Cristóbal Gadea, Álvaro Toledo, Ramón Esteban Angulo Reyes, and Yesner Cipriano Pineda Meneses. The expulsion of the clergymen to the Vatican is the Ortega regime’s latest attack against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, which has been outspoken in its criticism of the deteriorating religious freedom conditions in the country.
“While USCIRF is heartened that the arbitrarily detained clergymen are no longer unjustly held in prison, we are appalled that they have been exiled from their homelandfor peacefully practicing their religion,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie. “We emphatically reiterate that everyone has the right to adhere to any religion or belief of their choice and to freely express the dictates of their conscience without being targeted by government authorities.”
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo have intensified their persecution of the Catholic Church over the last five years. Within just the past year, the Ortega-Murillo regime has canceled the legal status and seized the property of Catholic universities and charities, arbitrarily expelled priests and nuns, and arrested Catholic university students as well as journalist Victor Ticay for recording a banned Easter celebration and posting the footage online. In February, the government sentenced Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez to 26 years in prison on spurious charges, including “undermining national security and sovereignty, spreading [fake news] through information technology, obstructing an official in the performance of his duties, [and] aggravated disobedience or contempt of authority.”
In March, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning “the growing restrictions imposed by Nicaragua on the exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the arbitrary arrest and harassment of religious leaders.” In August, USCIRF applauded the U.S. Department of State for imposing visa restrictions on Nicaraguan officials responsible for imprisoning religious leaders such as Bishop Álvarez and baselessly shuttering religious institutions like the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana. In September, the United Nations Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua said that the widespread human rights violations occurring in the country amount to crimes against humanity. On October 11, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution rejecting “the repressive measures taken by the government of Nicaragua against educational institutions and the Catholic Church.”
“As the international community comes together to condemn the Nicaraguan government’s unrelenting persecution of the Catholic Church and severe restrictions on religious freedom, USCIRF urges the U.S. government to continue leading efforts to hold the Ortega-Murillo regime accountable,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf. “We cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering in Nicaragua.”
In its 2023 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the U.S. Department of State redesignate Nicaragua as a Country of Particular Concern for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. In November 2022, USCIRF held a hearing on the “Crackdown on Religious Freedom in Nicaragua” and discussed the situation in an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a commissioner, please contact USCIRF at