In response to demands for proof that Bishop Rolando Álvarez is still alive, the Nicaraguan dictatorship’s Ministry of the Interior released new images of the prelate, who was sentenced to 26 years and four months in prison in February, accused of being “a traitor to the homeland.”

The measure was strongly criticized by Bishop Silvio Báez, who pointed out that the video and photos do not justify the regime’s crime.

Báez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua living in exile, wrote on X on Nov. 28 that the dictatorship shouldn’t think “that with their cynical language and with photos and videos of dubious authenticity they are going to justify their crime and silence us.”

“Bishop Rolando Álvarez is INNOCENT and we will continue to shout this injustice before the world. He must be released immediately and without conditions!” he exclaimed.

Other images had been previously released by the dictatorship in March, when various activists and institutions demanded, as they have been doing recently, proof that the bishop of Matagalpa was still alive.

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.”

The statement also says that the Ministry of the Interior “will continue to fulfill its duty to safely hold Rolando Álvarez in the conditions that ensure his rights in every sense.”

Also shown are photos dating from March 25, May 13, July 28, Aug. 31, Oct. 2, and Nov. 2, where he is seen with his brothers, and other photos where he appears to be receiving medical care.

Rolando Alvarez

Imprisoned Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa receives medical care July 29, 2023. The Nicaraguan government released a series of photos and videos in a 20-page press release, published Nov. 28, that states the images are proof that the bishop is receiving preferential treatment in prison. (OSV News photo/Nicaragua's Interior Ministry)

Images raise renewed concerns

The video shows the thinner, motionless prisoner seated as he blankly stares at a TV set in a living room with furniture and a table with various items on it.

Martha Patricia Molina — lawyer, researcher, and author of the report “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?” — also questioned the images: “The same setting serves as a clinic, living room, dining room. Can someone explain that to me? Do they only change things around for photos?”

Félix Maradiaga, deported former presidential candidate and president of the Nicaraguan Freedom Foundation living in exile in the United States, dismissed the images released by the Nicaraguan dictatorship and expressed his concern for the bishop, noting that these were “presented as a response to complaints about the inhumane and arbitrary conditions of his imprisonment and are a clear attempt to distort reality."

“We understand that these photographs do not reflect the true situation of Bishop Álvarez. Their appearance, coinciding with international efforts demanding proof he’s alive and the pronouncements of important entities such as the United States Congress and the European Parliament, demonstrates the dictatorship’s intention to create a false impression of normality,” he stressed in a statement sent to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

Maradiaga urged the international community to remain “vigilant” and “not be fooled by these maneuvers.” At the same time he asked it “to continue demanding the immediate and just release of Bishop Rolando Álvarez and all political prisoners in Nicaragua. The fight for justice and truth must continue relentlessly.”

In 2021 in the midst of running for president, Maradiaga was arrested by the Ortega regime and spent 20 months in prison before he was deported to the U.S. in February along with 221 other political prisoners in a deal with the U.S. State Department.