Amid the ongoing crackdown by President Daniel Ortegas’ Sandinista regime against the Catholic Church and political opponents, police authorities in Nicaragua have arrested yet another priest.

Father Jaime Iván Montesinos Sauceda, of the Parish of San Juan Pablo II in the Diocese of Matagalpa, was arrested on Tuesday night, 23 May, as he was driving on a road that leads to the municipality of Esquipulas.

According to an official statement released on Thursday, the priest is “suspected” of “committing acts undermining the nation’s independence and integrity” and will be brought before a judge to be tried for “treason”.

As for previous arrests involving priests in Nicaragua over the past months, the allegations are based on an article of the new Law for the Defense of People’s Rights to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-determination for Peace which was introduced in 2020.

The police report also alleges that the priest was found to be “acting suspiciously, drunk and in the company of a young woman” aboard a van parked on the side of the road. This has become a common false allegation leveled against priests arrested aimed at denigrating and discrediting the Catholic Church.

According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Montesinos is the third priest to be arrested in a week in Nicaragua. The Diocese of Estelì has confirmed that Fr. Eugenio Rodrìguez and Fr. Leonardo Guevara Gutiérrez are also being investigated by police authorities.

They add to the growing list of Catholic clergy and religious either harassed, expelled or unjustly detained in jail. Among them Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who was sentenced on February 10 to 26 years in prison by a court in Managua, stripped of his citizenship, and given a large fine on charges of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news. He is currently detained in the in La Modelo security prison.

“We are witnessing a clear attempt to silence the Church in Nicaragua,” ACN denounced in its statement released on Friday. “In a situation of strong political and social degradation, the Church’s role as peace broker and promoter of reconciliation has resulted in repression, false accusations, arrests and unjustified prison sentences,” said the Pontifical Foundation supporting persecuted Christians in the world.

Relations between the Nicaraguan Government and the Catholic Church have been strained since April 2018, when a wave of anti-regime protests was brutally suppressed by Nicaraguan authorities, and have further worsened after the controversial 2021 elections which confirmed President Ortega for another mandate.

The Sandinista leader has repeatedly accused the bishops, and even the Vatican, of conspiring against him, despite Church attempts to mediate in the 2018 protests.

Since the outbreak of the crisis, Nicaraguan authorities have arrested several priests, expelled missionaries, shut down Catholic radio stations and universities, and forbidden processions and pilgrimages.

In 2019 the auxiliary Bishop of Managua Silvio José Báez was forced into exile and, in March 2022, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw, was expelled as “persona non grata”.

Furthermore, in March this year Ortega ordered the closure of the Vatican nunciature in Managua and that of the Nicaraguan Embassy to the Vatican in Rome.

Churches have also been the target of several attacks and desecrations. This year has already recorded 90 of such attacks, the latest of which, Fide Agency has reported, occurred a few days ago in a chapel in the department of Masaya where the Blessed Sacrament was profaned.

A recent report by Nicaraguan lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, titled ‘Nicaragua: ¿Una Iglesia perseguida?’, registered 529 attacks since 2018, with a record number of 161 incidents in 2022.