This coming Sunday, evangelical churches in Bolivia will observe a day of prayer and fasting in the wake of their socialist government introducing potentially severe restrictions on religious freedom.
Article 88 of the mountainous South American nation’s new penal code, authorized December 15, 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,” according to a translation by Evangelical Focus, a media initiative of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance.
Changes to the code also permit abortion during the first eight weeks of pregnancy and expand punishment of “recklessness, negligence, malpractice” in all careers—worrying professionals from doctors to journalists.
The changes were approved several weeks after Bolivia’s Constitutional Court lifted term limits, allowing President Evo Morales to run for office indefinitely.
“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 (ANDEB) stated when the changes were introduced.
The code “is imprecise, ambiguous, badly written, contradictory, and its punitive power can constitute state abuse,” ANDEB later stated after the changes were approved. Bolivia’s population is 77 percent Catholic and 16 percent Protestant, though Morales, the Andean nation’s first indigenous president, has been walking the country back from its official Catholicism since 2013.