A U.S. senator is pushing the Department of State to release information on an imprisoned foreign bishop who refused to be sent to the U.S. after being arrested by his communist government.
Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri published a letter to the Department of State on Wednesday, demanding information on the continued persecution of Christians under the communist regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.
"In recent years, the Nicaraguan government has continually persecuted the Catholic community with repeated targeting, harassment, and human rights violations simply because of their religious beliefs," Schmitt wrote to the State Department.
The letter continued, "This includes banning more than 1,000 Catholic processions during Lent and Easter, expelling two congregations of nuns – including the Missionaries of Charity order founded by Mother Teresa – from the country, and closing the Catholic charity Caritas."
Ortega has alleged that Catholic leaders were involved in a plot to overthrow him, citing their role as mediators with protest groups following the 2018 protests in the country that resulted in approximately 300 deaths.
"As a Catholic myself and a staunch defender of religious freedom, it is essential we expose the imprisonment of Bishop Alvarez as well as the ongoing harassment of Catholic students, staff, and clergy at Central American University by the socialist Ortega regime," Schmitt told Fox News Digital on Wednesday.
"I will remain persistent in finding ways to ensure Catholics are protected from persecution in Nicaragua and urge the Biden administration to do the same," he added.
Of particular concern is Bishop Rolando Álvarez – a court in Nicaragua this February sentenced Álvarez, who serves as Roman Catholic bishop of the country's Matagalpa diocese, to more than 26 years in prison for alleged treason after he refused to be exiled to the United States.
The bishop was originally placed under de facto house arrest in 2022 after he spoke out against the Ortega regime for its human rights violations and closure of several important Catholic radio stations.
Among other charges, Alvarez was also convicted of undermining national integrity and spreading false news, the outlet reported.
Schmitt is demanding the Biden administration work for the release of Álvarez, and requesting the latest intelligence on the bishop's location, physical health, treatment by his captors and right to worship.
"As the regime of dictator Ortega takes increasingly brazen efforts to stifle religious freedom, I urge you and the Biden Administration to prioritize diplomatic efforts to halt the persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua," wrote Schmitt.
The senator continued, "The actions by the Ortega regime to arrest and sentence Bishop Álvarez – along with its widespread religious persecution of the Catholic community – are unequivocally inhumane and antithetical to the moral, ethical, and legal standards held by the United States and international community as a whole."
Alvarez refused to join four other priests and 222 other political prisoners who were expelled to the U.S. last Thursday as part of a prisoner exchange with the U.S. State Department, according to the Catholic News Agency. The bishop said he chose to remain in his country in protest against other Catholics who are being persecuted by the Nicaraguan government. He has not been seen publicly in over 200 days.
Last month, the Nicaraguan government released 12 Catholic priests held on a variety of charges to the custody of the Holy See.
Ortega said the priests were flown to Rome following productive talks with the Vatican.
Álvarez was not among the names of the priests listed.
The State Department has until Jan. 10, 2024, to answer Schmitt's requests.
Fox News Digital's Jon Brown and Bradford Betz contributed to this report.