Bolivia adopted a new penal code on December 15th called Article 88. The measure states that “whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom, or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalized 5 to 12 years of imprisonment,” the Evangelical Focus, a Spanish media organization, reported.
Although Bolivia is run by an atheistic socialist government, most of its population is Christian with 77% identifying as Catholic and 16% Protestant. Now, many Christian leaders are concerned that even more of their rights will be taken away.
“Will they denounce us if we bring a group of people to a Christian camp?” one pastor told Evangelical Focus. “Will I no longer be able to preach the Gospel on the streets?”
According to the Inter-American Federation of Christian Journalists and the Bolivian Association of Christian Journalists, the law compares sharing the gospel with human trafficking.
“The article says that one commits the crime of human trafficking who: captures, transports, transfers, welcomes, or receives people, with the purpose of participation in religious or worship organizations,” the organizations stated. “This means that one can be punished: a) who carries out proselytizing activities, in public or private, because they are ‘capturing people’; b) who transports a person from their home to their church or religious temple, or simply invites them to the church; c) who welcomes or receives people to participate in a religious or worship organization, that is, who would commit this crime are pastors, rabbis, priests, parents, leaders, etc.”
Evangelical leaders say this is a violation of human rights.
“It is deplorable that Bolivia becomes the first Latin American country to persecute the rights of freedom of conscience and of religion, which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the declaration of San José de Costa Rica, and our Constitution,” the National Association of Evangelicals in Bolivia said in a statement.
The new penal code comes after Bolivia’s government abolished term limits, allowing President Evo Morales to stay in power indefinitely.