Nicaraguan riot police raided a Roman Catholic diocese's headquarters at 3am Friday, knocking the door down and taking a bishop and several priests and seminarians into custody. The raid was on the residence of Bishop Rolando Álvarez in the northern city of Matagalpa, the Wall Street Journal reports. The National Police said that Álvarez was placed under house arrest elsewhere and was allowed to talk with family members but that the others detained were being held in a prison. "With my heart outraged and in pain, I condemn the kidnapping at night of Monsignor Álvarez," said a tweet by Silvio Baez, auxiliary bishop of Managua.
The police statement said the arrests were part of an investigation into "destabilizing and provocative" activities, per CNN. Officials later said the detainees were taken for "legal inquiries." The government said this month that the diocese was being investigated on suspicion of organizing and inciting violent groups to destabilize the nation. Officials presented no evidence for the accusation. Álvarez, who has regularly criticized the authoritarian rule of President Daniel Ortega, has publicly called for changes that would bring free and democratic elections. Five Catholic radio stations have been closed during Ortega's crackdown on dissent.
Churches throughout Latin America denounced the arrests and called for an end to what they called the persecution of Nicaragua's people and church. Other organizations, including the Organization of American States, demanded that the detainees be released. Vice President Rosario Murillo, who's married to Ortega, said in a speech that the arrest of the bishop was necessary. Álvarez had not left his residence for two weeks and was rationing food; police stationed outside blocked supplies from being delivered. The Matagalpa diocese had posted a video of Álvarez blessing the officers, dressed in riot gear, at the entrance. (Read more Nicaragua stories.)