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A Crisis of Religious Freedom in Latin America

A Crisis of Religious Freedom in Latin America

  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds first-ever hearing on religious freedom in Latin America
  • Experts cite examples of egregious religious freedom infringements in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Argentina, among other Latin American countries
San Jose, Costa Rica (29 October 2022) – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds its first-ever hearing on religious freedom in Latin America. Human rights experts call attention to the crisis of religious freedom sweeping the region. 

“Latin America is currently experiencing a surge of human rights abuses in the area of religious freedom. What we are seeing is indicative of an alarming disregard for this foundational human right, with severe consequences not just for people of faith, but also for the future of democracy in the region as a whole,” stated Tomás Henriquez, ADF International’s Director of Advocacy for Latin America, addressing the Commission. 

Henriquez demanded the Commission take action against egregious religious freedom violations in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Argentina, among other Latin American countries. 

Nicaragua

At the start of this year, Ortega’s government expelled the Missionaries of Charity of St. Teresa of Calcutta and the Religious of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from the country without due process. The regime has harassed and forced the exile of more than a dozen Catholic priests. Many others have been detained, including the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez (under house arrest), and Fr. Oscar Benavidez, Fr. Ramiro Tijerino, Fr. José Luis Díaz, Fr. Sadiel Eugarrios, and Fr. Raúl González, diocesan priests, as well as seminarians Darvin Leyva and Melquín Sequeira, together with cameraman Sergio Cárdenas.  

Henriquez, an expert on issues pertaining to human rights abuses in Latin America, spoke out against the systematic political repression and overt religious persecution being carried out against the people of Nicaragua.  

Addressing the religious freedom hearing, Henriquez said: “Commissioners, we are faced with the unfortunate coincidence that this hearing is taking place at the same time that the region is witnessing with impotence one of the worst religious persecutions in living memory since the system came into existence. I am referring, of course, to the very serious and urgent situation that the Nicaraguan people are experiencing, including in particular the Catholic Church and its bishops, priests, seminarians, lay people and religious brothers and sisters”. 

Furthermore, the government is responsible for the closure of social services of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Estelí, and the forced closure and expropriation of the Universidad Católica Agropecuaria del Trópico Seco, and the 13 parochial schools of the Diocese of Estelí—all of which have a multidimensional impact on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion of students, parents, and members of the church.  

Henriquez called on the Commission to take urgent action against religious persecution targeting the Catholic Church Nicaragua, and called for the immediate release of all detained clergy by the Ortega regime for the protection of their lives and physical and psychological integrity. 

Mexico 

Flagrant religious freedom abuses are also taking place in Mexico, where it is illegal for clergy to speak on political issues on account of regulations dating back to 1917. In early 2022, four priests (Juan Sandoval, Mario Angel Flores, Carlos Aguiar and Angel Espinosa de los Monteros) were found guilty of violating Article 130 of the Mexican Constitution for issuing statements containing their opinions on socio-political events in their country and urging the faithful to vote according to their convictions. The priests were denounced by the ruling political party, tried before an electoral tribunal, and found guilty for the “crime” of politically oriented speech. 

On the situation in Mexico, Henriquez stated that the silencing of religious leaders “not only violates freedom of religion and expression, but also is also discriminatory, since it affects a defined category of people because of their religion.” Noting that the problem is not limited to Mexico, Henriquez stated that, “The Commission must take concrete action to demand the repeal of laws that chill the free expression of ministers of religion in the constitutions of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica”. 

Henriquez and ADF International are continuing to intervene and monitor the violations of religious freedoms taking place in Latin America.  

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