January 16, 2018

New Criminal Code in Bolivia Could Curtail Religious Liberty, Say Advocates

Bolivia’s new Criminal Code includes an article that, according to various faith groups and religious liberty advocates, could curtail, among others, the freedom of religion in that South American country. The new code, which came into effect last December 15, includes Article 88, which forbids people “to recruit, transport, transfer, deprive other people of liberty, or to shelter or welcome people for various ends” as stated in its subsections. Specifically, in Subsection 11, the new code states that “recruiting people to take part in any armed conflict or in religious or faith organizations” is punishable with a 7-12 year prison sentence and the obligation to make economic reparations.

“Restricting such right implies restricting human dignity”

The new code, which is motivating protests across the social spectrum, has Seventh-day Adventist religious advocates wary. Together with other faith and religious liberty organizations, the Seventh-day Adventist Church believes the application of the new legislation could entail risks for the exercise of the freedom of belief, assembly, and worship.

In an official statement, Seventh-day Adventist religious leaders in South America reminded that freedom of religion is a human right, as has been put forth in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other national and international documents. “Restricting such right implies restricting human dignity,” reads the Adventist Church statement.

The statement also emphasizes that the Seventh-day Adventist Church regularly discusses with national and international authorities the best ways to support religious freedom, as it tries to contribute to a positive environment that may allow for the free exercise of such right. It also works to motivate everyone to become an advocate for religious liberty. “The [Seventh-day Adventist] Church sees any threat to this essential human right as a motive for concern,” it reads.

As regards the specific passing of the new Criminal Code, the Religious Liberty Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bolivia, in consultation with the South American Division International Association of Religious Liberty (IRLA-SAD), is following the developments related to the implementation of the new legislation. Currently, it is contacting other public and private organizations, as it launches a discussion on the legal implications of the new code for religious liberty, and decides which steps to take to support a defense of this human right.

“It is a moment to be cautious and foster dialogue,” read the church’s statement. “The [Seventh-day Adventist] Church, therefore, calls every advocate person and organization to join us in prayer.”

The Adventist Church also made a specific appeal to members and supporters to pray for God to enlighten government officers. “May God grant His wisdom to our authorities as they discuss this topic,” it read.