Religious persecution in Colombia takes many forms – pastors threatened, disappeared or murdered, religious activity forbidden, churches forced to close and Christian communities forced out of their area.
Despite a government-supported demobilisation of paramilitary organisations, new groups have emerged, meaning that in parts of Colombia paramilitary or guerrilla groups are the only real authority.
Christians living in areas under the control of armed groups often face the worst persecution. Christians are targets because the illegal armed groups aim to exercise total control over communities and the Christians’ beliefs often directly contradict those of the armed groups.
What does Christian persecution look like in Colombia?
Pastors have been forced to stop preaching, banished from the community, harassed, disappeared and even murdered.
Young Christians who have refused to join armed groups have been martyred for their stand.
Armed groups taking over a village or town often close the church and forbid Christians from meeting.
Christians in indigenous communities have been forced to take part in traditional religious ceremonies and punished (even to the point of being banished) if they refuse.
Religious freedom in Colombia: Five top facts:
1. 25-30 Colombian pastors are murdered by armed groups
2. More than 300 protestant pastors have been murdered since
3. More than 200 churches are currently closed in areas
controlled by armed groups.
4. Entire Christian communities have been targeted by armed
groups, forced to leave and end up living in internal refugee
5. 60% of the murders of human rights workers throughout the
world took place in Colombia – this includes many
Christians who are speaking up for justice.
Religious freedom violations take many forms in Colombia. In many areas of Colombia guerrillas and paramilitary groups have specifically targeted pastors, martyred pastors and displaced thousands over the past few years. The armed groups blame the pastors for causing a serious decline in their membership – most who convert to Christianity then refuse to join their ranks, and even worse in the eyes of the armed groups, when guerrillas or members of the paramilitary groups come to Christ they often lay down their weapons and refuse to fight.
Christians who live in areas controlled by the armed groups have often faced the most intense persecution. Many report that when armed groups take over a village or town they close the church and forbid Christians from meeting.
In addition, some armed groups have forced the pastors to stop preaching or have even banished them from the community, accusing them of being agents of the “capitalist system”.Many pastors have refused and have paid not only with their lives but also those of their families as well. In addition, the armed groups have at times forced Christians to leave their towns, adding to the number of internally displaced person inside the country – which may be between three million and four million people. All the armed groups also forcibly conscript youths. Many young Christians who have refused to join and fight have been martyred for their stand.
A “Law of Autonomy” was designed to empower indigenous communities, however, aspects of the legislation have had negative consequences for Christians. Under the law, traditional religious leaders have the authority to force all members of the community to participate in traditional religious ceremonies and punish those who refused. Punishment can include corporal punishment and in the worst cases, banishment from the indigenous group’s lands. This is clearly in violation of international standards on human rights in relation to the individual’s right to choose a religion of one’s choice. There have already been reports of forcible church closures and threats of banishment. If the law is not modified it could have devastating implications for the tens of thousands of indigenous Colombians who have chosen to follow the Christian faith. (Source: CSW)