Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF) demanded that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) defend religious freedom in the region, with a special emphasis on Mexico and Nicaragua.

“Latin America is currently experiencing a surge of human rights abuses in the area of religious freedom. What we are seeing is indicative of an alarming disregard for this foundational human right, with severe consequences not just for people of faith, but also for the future of democracy in the region as a whole,” stated Tomás Henriquez, ADF International’s director of advocacy for Latin America.

At an Oct. 29 hearing held in Costa Rica, Henriquez demanded that the commission take concrete action against the violations of religious freedom in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Argentina, among other countries in the region.

Nicaraguan dictatorship’s persecution of the Church

On Aug. 19 the national police abducted Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, in the middle of the night after having forcibly confined him in his chancery since Aug. 4. He was transferred to Managua, where he is now under house arrest.

That same night, the police also arrested priests, seminarians, and a cameraman who were being confined in the chancery along with the bishop. They are being held in the El Chipote prison, where opponents of the regime have been tortured.

The priests are Father Ramiro Tijerino, Father José Luis Diaz, Father Sadiel Eugarrios, and Father Raúl González. The seminarians are Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira, and the cameraman is Sergio Cárdenas; all are from the Diocese of Matagalpa.

Another priest who was arrested and is being held in El Chipote is Father Oscar Benavidez from the Diocese of Siuna.

In March, the dictatorship expelled the apostolic nuncio in Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. The decision was received with “surprise and pain” by the Vatican.

In July, the Ortega dictatorship expelled from Nicaragua the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, who are now serving in neighboring Costa Rica. In September, the Religious of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were forced to leave the country.

The former auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, has been living in exile in the United States after it became known that Ortega’s government had very probably ordered his assassination.

The regime removed the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference’s channel from its television broadcasting system in May, and in August it forcibly shut down several Catholic radio stations.

For Henriquez, what the Nicaraguan dictatorship is carrying out is “one of the worst persecutions in recent history since the human rights system began to exist.”

The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, is also responsible for the closure of social services and 13 parochial schools in the Diocese of Esteli.

The regime also provoked the forced closure and expropriation of the Agricultural Catholic University of the Dry Tropics.

Henriquez asked the commission to take “urgent action” against the persecution suffered by the Catholic Church in the Central American country.

Restrictions in Mexico

Henriquez also referred to the abuses against religious freedom suffered by the Catholic Church in Mexico, where it has been illegal for members of the clergy to speak publicly about politics for more than a century.

Cardinals Juan Sandoval and Carlos Aguiar and priests Ángel Espinosa de los Monteros and Mario Ángel Flores were found guilty this year of violating Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which recognizes “the historical principle of the separation of the State and the churches.”

Henriquez said that silencing religious leaders “not only violates religious freedom and freedom of speech but is also discriminatory, since it affects a certain group of people because of their religion.”

The ADF expert said that the commission must also act in this situation as well as face other threats to religious freedom contained “in the constitutions of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica.”