Nicaraguan judge sentences priest to 49 years for rape

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A judge in Nicaragua on Friday sentenced a Roman Catholic priest to 49 years in prison for the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

Judge Edén Aguilar Castro sentenced Reverend José Leonardo Urbina to 24 years in prison for two counts of abuse and 25 years for one count of rape.

However, Aguilar Castro decided that Urbina would only serve 30 years. Nicaraguan law limits maximum sentences in most cases to 30 years.

Urbina served as a priest at the Perpetuo Socorro parish in the town of Boaco, 90 kilometers northeast of the capital, Managua. He was arrested in July on a complaint from the victim’s mother.

The Diocese of Granada expressed “deep pain and suffering” in a statement regarding the sentencing and called on the faithful to “continue to pray for our imprisoned priests”.

In June, a priest in the southern town of Nandaime was sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly assaulting a woman, but she later recanted the charge and was charged with perjury.

The sentencing comes amid an unprecedented series of arrests and tensions between President Daniel Ortega’s government and the church.

In August, Nicaraguan police raided the residence of Matagalpa Diocese Bishop Rolando Álvarez and arrested him and several other priests who had holed up inside for two weeks after police set up a cord.

Nicaraguan authorities had previously accused Bishop Álvarez – an outspoken critic of Ortega’s government – of “organizing violent groups” and inciting them “to commit acts of hatred against the population”.

The government had previously closed eight radio stations and a television channel in the province of Matagalpa, north of Managua. Seven of the radio stations were run by the church.

Huge street protests across Nicaragua in 2018 called on Ortega to stand down. Ortega argued that the protests were a coup attempt carried out with foreign backing and church backing. Since then, his government has acted against dissenting voices, including locking up political opposition leaders and shutting down more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations.

In November, after locking in potential challengers, Ortega won a fourth straight term in elections that foreign governments have called a farce. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on members of his government and members of his family.

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