By Peter Pinedo
Republican Rep. Chris Smith is demanding proof from Nicaraguan Dictator Daniel Ortega that an imprisoned Catholic bishop and religious freedom advocate Bishop Rolando Álvarez is still alive.
“Since there has been no reliable evidence of the bishop’s state of health or even that he is alive,” Smith said, “I call on President Ortega to provide proof to the international community that Bishop Álvarez is still alive.”
Smith further demanded that the Red Cross have “immediate access” to Álvarez “to independently examine his health without restriction and without government officials or prison guards present.”
Smith, a Catholic Republican from New Jersey, also renewed his June request to meet with Álvarez in person in Nicaragua.
A staunch advocate for human and religious rights and critic of the Ortega dictatorship, Álvarez was first placed under house arrest in August 2022.
After he refused to leave the country, Álvarez was then sentenced to more than 26 years in prison and placed in a maximum-security facility known as “Modelo Prison.”
According to Smith, Modelo is “notorious for its harsh conditions.”
Besides imprisoning one of the Nicaraguan Church’s top voices, Ortega has taken increasingly hostile actions against the Catholic Church, including expelling the Vatican’s envoy to Nicaragua, confiscating Church property, and expelling several religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity.
Ortega has also arrested and exiled hundreds of religious and political dissidents who opposed his regime.
Many became hopeful when Álvarez was reportedly freed for a short period in early July; however, he was quickly returned to Modelo after the prelate once again refused to leave the country.
“Bishop Álvarez, a courageous and compassionate servant of God, has suffered immensely at the hands of Daniel Ortega’s brutal regime for more than a year now,” Smith said in his Aug. 10 statement.
“The safety and well-being of Bishop Álvarez and the other religious and political prisoners who continue to be persecuted by the Ortega-Murillo regime is a top concern for the U.S. Congress and defenders of human rights across the world,” Smith said, adding that “all religious and political prisoners should be released.”