Rolando Alvarez speaks during a mass in Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Rolando Alvarez speaks during a mass in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Nicaraguan police on Friday forcefully removed Catholic bishop and government critic Rolando Alvarez from his official residence after two weeks under siege, said Church and rights groups who had no news on his whereabouts.

Alvarez, along with several priests and lay people, had been holed up at his residence in Matagalpa in central Nicaragua since August 4, alleged by authorities of inciting violence to destabilize the Central American country.

The incident is the latest in a worsening standoff between civil society and a government accused of growing authoritarianism.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been under increasing government pressure since opposition protests in 2018 were met with repression that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

President Daniel Ortega accused bishops of complicity and said that protesters used church buildings as "barracks."

The action against Alvarez, 55, started with riot police preventing him from leaving home to say mass earlier this month, and days later the bishop announced he was effectively under "house arrest."

On Friday, the Latin American Bishops Conference tweeted that "the national police has entered the residence of our diocese of Matagalpa and has taken" the bishop.

"His whereabouts are still unknown," added the tweet with the tags "#SOS" and "#URGENT."

Vilma Nunez of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) told AFP that police "removed him with violence and it is not known where they took him."

There has been no official word on Alvarez's detention.

In the early morning hours, the Matagalpa diocese, announced the police had entered the Church residence.

"How outrageous, they have taken Monsignor Rolando Alvarez with the priests who were with him," tweeted Nicaraguan priest Edwing Roman, in exile in Miami.

President Ortega, a 76-year-old former guerrilla, has governed Nicaragua since 2007, winning three successive reelections.

The last vote took place in November 2021, after Ortega's main rivals had been jailed, joining dozens of other government opponents and critics in prison.

According to the EU, Nicaragua has more than 180 "political prisoners."

In the first half of 2022, the bloc said, Nicaraguan authorities closed down over 1,200 civil society organizations.

The Vatican has said that Nicaragua expelled its ambassador to the country in March.

Last week, the Cenidh said another Nicaraguan priest, Oscar Benavidez, was "removed from his vehicle and taken by patrol car to an unknown destination."

Arturo McFields, a former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States, tweeted Friday that the "dictatorship kidnapped Rolando Alvarez... continuing its infernal pursuit of the Church."

McFields was himself fired after calling his country a dictatorship in public and denouncing the existence of "political prisoners."

Earlier this week, 26 former heads of state or government from Spain and Latin America published a call to Pope Francis -- who has not spoken publicly about the situation in Nicaragua -- to adopt "a firm stance in defense of the Nicaraguan people and their religious freedom."

Nicaraguan police block the entrance of Matagalpa's Archbishop Curia on August 4, preventing bishop Rolando Alvarez from leaving
Nicaraguan police block the entrance of Matagalpa's Archbishop Curia on August 4, preventing bishop Rolando Alvarez from leaving