U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, renewed his request to visit a Catholic bishop imprisoned by the Daniel Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua and demanded “the end of the persecution of the Catholic Church” in that country.

In a July 6 statement, Smith said he remains “very concerned about the safety and well-being of Bishop Rolando José Álvarez amid inconsistent reports of his status in Nicaragua” and renewed his request to visit him there.

The congressman, who chairs the House Global Human Rights subcommittee, sent a letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega last month requesting a meeting with Álvarez.

Álvarez, who has been persecuted by the dictatorship of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, for years because of his defense of human rights, was finally prosecuted and sentenced Feb. 10 for “treason against the homeland.”

In addition to being sentenced to more than 26 years in prison, Álvarez was permanently stripped of his citizenship and citizen rights.

On July 4, various human rights advocates stated that the dictatorship and representatives of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua held negotiations to allow the release and deportation of the prelate. 

The Nicaraguan news media El Confidencial reported the next day that the talks had failed and that Álvarez once again had been returned to his maximum security cell in the Jorge Navarro prison, known as “La Modelo,” one of the oldest and most overcrowded prisons in the country where the regime’s political prisoners are sent.

The auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio Báez, who has been living in exile in Miami since 2019 due to persecution from the Ortega dictatorship, tweeted July 5 that his brother in the episcopate would only agree to leave Nicaragua if “the pope ordered him to.” because “a pastor bishop doesn’t go far away from his people because a dictatorship imposes it on him.”

In his July 6 statement, Smith stressed that Álvarez “is a compassionate and honorable servant of God’s people who continues to so bravely and selflessly advocate for other innocent victims who are also being persecuted by the brutal Ortega regime, including his brother priests who remain imprisoned.”

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Previously, in a letter dated June 5, Smith asked Ortega to be allowed to visit Álvarez. 

The congressman informed the Nicaraguan dictator that on March 22 he co-chaired “a congressional hearing that focused on the human rights situation in Nicaragua,” noting that “compelling testimony by more than one expert witness highlighted Bishop Álvarez’s unjust, ongoing imprisonment and prosecution.”

Smith concluded his letter noting that he remains “gravely concerned about Bishop Álvarez’ health and well-being. Given the gravity of the reported abuses and credibility of recent testimony, as well as my responsibility for legislation and oversight of the U.S. State Department on matters relating to internationally recognized human rights, it is important that I visit with him.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.