In response to demands for proof that Álvarez is still alive, the Nicaraguan dictatorship’s Ministry of the Interior released new video and images of the bishop on Tuesday.
In a Nov. 28 press release, the Ministry of the Interior stated that the video and photos show that “the conditions of [Álvarez’s] confinement are preferential and that the regimen of doctor’s appointments is strictly complied with as well as family visits, the sending and receiving of packages, contrary to what slanderous campaigns try to make you believe.”
According to Smith, however, the video of Álvarez released this week by the government of Nicaragua “raises serious questions and concerns about his well-being.”
Smith told CNA on Friday that he is going to continue pressuring the Ortega regime to release the bishop and cease its persecutions through increased sanctions.
He said that the video reminded him of a visit he made to a communist gulag under the Soviet Union in which prison officials tried to convince him that the detainees were well-fed and happy by staging food and forcing them to smile.
Though the video shows seemingly comfortable chairs and couches and food on a table, he said that witnesses who survived imprisonment by the Nicaraguan government informed him that “none of that’s real.”
“It’s all one big fat façade of disinformation because they live a horrible, horrible life in prison and with beatings and other kinds of maltreatment,” Smith said.
“He has lost weight; is he ill?” Smith asked during the hearing. “Is he being provided proper nutrition and basic medical care? We have no idea what is going on day to day.”
Throughout his captivity, Smith said, Álvarez has shown incredible courage and fortitude.
“I am in awe of his courage, faithfulness, and kindness,” Smith said. “And I know so many others in Congress, House, Senate, Democrat, Republican, people in the White House, we’re in awe of his goodness and his extraordinary strength. Bishop Álvarez deserves to be respected and revered and free, not persecuted and incarcerated.”
“We’re really going to keep ratcheting up the pressure,” Smith went on. “I’ve been asking to go and visit with him in prison to ascertain for myself and anyone who goes with me, his welfare, his whereabouts … and the biggest hope would be to walk out with him as a released prisoner.”
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What are other groups saying?
The Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), also joined in the push for the Nicaraguan dictatorship to release Álvarez this week.
Kristina Hjelkrem, an ADF Latin America legal counsel, said in a Thursday statement that the group was “grateful to the subcommittee for raising the critical issue of religious persecution in Nicaragua and for hosting this vital congressional hearing.”
“Bishop Álvarez has been harassed and unjustly imprisoned by the Nicaraguan government for simply fulfilling his duties as a Catholic bishop,” Hjelkrem went on. “No person should be punished or prosecuted for expressing their faith.”
Deborah Ullmer, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the National Democratic Institute, also testified at the hearing. She said Álvarez “has become the courageous face of resistance in Nicaragua.”
Ullmer said Álvarez’s imprisonment violates several international human rights laws and agreements and suggested several actions the U.S. could take to pressure the regime to release the bishop.