Protestants in Bolivia are worried that a provision in the new criminal code will be interpreted to criminalize proselytism.
Article 88.1 of the new criminal code threatens anyone who "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" with from five to 12 years in prison.
The oddly worded statute seemingly combines a legitimate legislative aim to criminalize kidnapping someone in order to force him to fight in a war with an entirely illegitimate intention to outlaw evangelism, or recruitment into a religious or worship organization. How such disparate topics both ended up in one brief piece of legislation is a mystery that would require local knowledge to solve.
Bolivia is mostly Roman Catholic, but about 19% of the population are members of non-Catholic Christian denominations. Thrice-elected socialist president Evo Morales, who has served for twelve years, has tended to govern more pragmatically than his radical Leftist rhetoric would indicate. He should be advised to veto the new criminal code until Article 88.1 can be re-drafted.
Bolivia's National Association of Evangelicals has criticized the new Penal Code:
“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 . . . Christian evangelical churches in our country are institutions aiming to rehabilitate the human being, improve the moral, spiritual, ethical and social conditions of our citizens. Now, we have been put in a situation in which practicing the Gospel has been criminalized.”
Faith groups are not the only ones who have issues with the new penal code. Journalists have also denounced the Penal Code because it will severely restrict freedom of speech and the freedom of media.
Please pray that the work in Bolivia will not be hindered by this misguided statute.
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