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Eight Catholic Leaders Arrested After Demonstration in Nicaragua

November 13, 1985

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Police raided homes at dawn Tuesday and took away eight people who had organized a public demonstration for Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo last weekend in northwestern Nicaragua, a Roman Catholic Church official said.

Monsignor Julian Barni, bishop of Chinandega and Leon, said Sandinista police took the three women and five men to a military base near Chinandega.

He said they were members of a group that staged the demonstration for the cardinal Sunday in the city of Chinandega, and the government charged them with violating the national state of emergency decreed Oct. 15.

President Daniel Ortega’s leftist government declared the emergency to combat alleged internal subversion and because of the guerrilla war being fought by U.S.-backed rebels.

The emergency decree prohibits public demonstrations and suspends several individual rights, including free speech, privacy of the home and communications, and the right to strike.

Obando y Bravo, who has toured the country almost weekly since his elevation to cardinal in June, was greeted by an estimated 5,000 people at Chinandega, about 60 miles north of Managua.

The crowd marched through the streets, which were festooned with banners of yellow and white, accompanying the cardinal to a church where he delivered a sermon that largely avoided politics.

A pickup truck led the procession. Five young women threw flowers in the cardinal’s path from the back of it. People wearing yellow and white clothing or armbands helped clear a path through the crowded streets.

Church officials in Managua said they sought a permit for the demonstration but it was denied by the government, which has accused Obando y Bravo of behaving more like a politician than a priest.

″The eight people ... were accused of violating the national state of emergency because, according to the authorities, they did not stop the demonstration,″ a parish priest said by telephone from Chinandega.

″The authorities of Chinandega acted badly because the truth of the matter is that the crowd demonstrated spontaneously, despite having been advised that they should not do it,″ said the priest, who asked that his name be withheld for fear of reprisals.

Bishop Barni, speaking by telephone from his office in Leon, said he was trying to get the eight released.

″At this moment I am talking with Commander Alonso Porras, military delegate of the government in the provinces of Chinandega and Leon, to obtain the freedom of these people as soon as possible,″ he said. The bishop would not give details of the negotiations.

Relations between the church and government began to deteriorate soon after the Sandinistas overthrew President Anastasio Somoza in July 1979.

They have grown worse in recent months, partly because of the cardinal’s call for dialogue between the government and its opponents, including the rebels who have been fighting since 1981.

Ortega’s government refuses to talk to the rebels, and has accused the church of being an ″internal voice″ of counterrevolution.

An editor of the opposition newspaper, La Prensa, said Tuesday that one of its reporters, Norman Talavera, was being held in a state security jail.

Talavera’s wife, Fatima, said six security agents in military uniforms arrested her husband Sunday and took all his personal papers, including love letters they had exchanged before their marriage.

She said authorities gave her no explanation of the arrest. Talavera was the sixth La Prensa employee arrested since the Sandinistas took power.