Fox News Flash top headlines for January 15
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Nicaragua’s government announced on Sunday that negotiations with Vatican authorities secured the release of two Catholic bishops and 17 other clergy members who were incarcerated last year under the current regime’s escalated crackdown on religious leaders.
Authorities imprisoned Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Bishop Isidoro del Carmen Mora Ortega of Siuna, 15 priests and two seminarians in recent years after a court, in most cases, accused them of supporting a plot in 2018 to overthrow President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo’s regime.
Álvarez was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison, stripped of his citizenship and declared a traitor last February “for undermining national integrity” and “propagation of false news.” Authorities arrested Bishop Mora in December.
Bishop Rolando Alvarez was among several priests and seminarians who were arrested last August by the government of Nicaragua. (STR via Getty Images)
US OFFICIALS DEMAND NICARAGUA RELEASE ‘UNJUSTLY’ INCARCERATED CATHOLIC BISHOP
According to the Nicaraguan government’s statement, Vatican Authorities received the clergy members “in compliance with Agreements of Good Faith and Goodwill, which seek to promote understanding and improve communication between the Holy See and Nicaragua, for Peace and Good.”
Vatican News, the Vatican’s in-house media operation, confirmed all clergy members, except for one who remained in Venezuela, arrived in Rome on Sunday and “are now guests of the Holy See.”
Pope Francis said during the Angelus at the beginning of the year that the bishops and priests were “deprived of their freedom” in Nicaragua, adding that he hopes “that the path of dialogue will always be sought to overcome difficulties.”
U.S. officials have long accused Ortega’s administration of crimes against humanity for waging war against religious freedom and civil liberties. Both the Trump and Biden administrations and members of Congress passed measures to sanction financial lifelines to the Nicaraguan government.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega alleged Catholic leaders were involved in a plot to overthrow him, citing their role as mediators with protest groups following the 2018 protests in the country that resulted in about 300 deaths, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing, and many others imprisoned. (Photo by INTI OCON/AFP via Getty Images)
The Biden Administration criticized the Nicaraguan government earlier this month for “unjustly” incarcerating Álvarez, who has spent more than 500 days in La Modelo Tipitapa — one of Latin America’s most notorious prisons.
CATHOLIC BISHOP SENTENCED TO DECADES IN PRISON FOR TREASON AFTER REFUSING EXILE TO US: ‘UNBRIDLED HATRED’
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller demanded the current regime free the religious leader immediately and without conditions, claiming authorities kept Álvarez in isolation, blocked independent evaluation of his imprisonment and released staged videos and photographs that increased concerns about his well-being.
Authorities convicted Álvarez after he refused to be exiled to the United States with four other priests and 222 other political prisoners who were expelled to the U.S. as part of a prisoner exchange with the Biden administration.
The bishop chose to remain in Nicaragua in protest against Ortega-Murillo’s crackdown on the Catholic Church in recent years.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee, worked to secure the release of the remaining prisoners and urged U.S. and Vatican officials to increase efforts to liberate those arrested in Nicaragua for practicing their faith.
REPUBLICAN SENATOR PRESSES STATE DEPARTMENT FOR INFO ON BISHOP IMPRISONED BY ORTEGA REGIME
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee, worked to secure the release of the remaining prisoners and urged U.S. and Vatican officials to increase efforts to liberate those arrested in Nicaragua for practicing their faith. (Rep. Chris Smith’s Office)
“The lives of these courageous leaders of the Church in Nicaragua are no longer in immediate danger, but they continue to long for the protection and fundamental rights of those who still face human rights abuses and punishment for practicing their faith,” Smith said in a news release.
Smith called the Ortega-Murillo regime’s efforts to “crush” the Church in Nicaragua “a grave miscalculation.”
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“We will not forget the additional victims of the Ortega-Murillo regime,” Smith said. “We have more work to do to secure the release of the remaining prisoners of conscience and to help the people of Nicaragua to secure the basic right to live as free people in their own country.”
THE Associated Press contributed to this report.
Brandon Drey is a politics writer for Fox News Digital.