28 indigenous Colombian Christians have been imprisoned since October for refusing to denounce their faith, reports MNN.
Logan Maurer with International Christian Concern says the central government gave local governors relative autonomy. "They have devolved power to a governor there who has outlawed Christianity. He has said that if anybody there is a Christian, they’re going to go to prison."
With that announcement, the local governor over the Kogui (ko-gee) called the Christians together on October 27th. "He was holding a meeting to discuss this issue," said Maurer, "and he surprised these Christians by saying, ‘You’re all under arrest.’"
The governor wants them to maintain more of the traditional identity to the tribal region, which includes animism. The group is still being held because they refuse to reconvert.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide says at last report, two of the kidnapped infants were seriously ill. The governor and his allies also humiliated non-Christian leaders who had supported the Christians in the community and protected them from being expelled.
What’s especially odd about this case is that the Colombian government has apparently refused to act on behalf of the Christians. That’s prompting outcry from human rights watchdog groups. Maurer adds that the Colombian government is "willing to ignore its own Constitution and its international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR, the ICSECR, and the American Convention on Human Rights–all of which explicitly protect the right of individuals to choose their own faith and to convert of their own free will."
ICC remains concerned about what this means for other believers. Maurer explains, "There’s over 100 individuals that consider themselves Christians and would be affected. If this governor continues to imprison men, women and children, as he has done, you could be looking at up to 100 people in prison for their faith."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Sixteen members of Colombia’s Kogui tribe were recently kidnapped in an attempt to force them to recant their Christianity, says Voice of the Martyrs Canada. Currently held in a remote location, these believers won’t be released until they renounce their faith in Christ, reports MNN.
Consisting of men, women and infants, the group was captured during a community meeting summoned by the Kogui governor. Believers were taken prisoner by the governor and his followers; community leaders shouted insults at the Christians throughout the night. Non-Christian leaders who supported the imprisoned believers were shamed.
The governor intends to eradicate the Christian faith from Kogui members through imprisonment and forced denial of the faith. The world’s highest coastal range, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, is home to the Kogui people, and Kogui Christians number around 120 of the entire 11,000-member tribe.
Reportedly, two of the kidnapped infants have fallen seriously ill. Pray for their recovery and for the immediate release of these believers.
VOMC says the largest inhibitors of religious freedom in Columbia are guerrilla and criminal groups. They target Christian leaders who actively oppose corruption and the drug trade. Pastors and youth leaders also fall under opposition because they influence Colombia’s youth, making it difficult for Marxist and paramilitary groups to recruit them.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Alarmed by threatening strangers, wife and children of William Reyes leave Maicao.
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 24 (Compass Direct News) – The wife and children of pastor William Reyes, who was kidnapped last September in Colombia and is still missing, have moved from their home to another city due to threatening strangers presumably linked to his kidnappers.
Compass learned that Idia Miranda Reyes, her son William, 19, and daughters Luz Nelly, 17, and Estefania, 9, suddenly left their home in Maicao in the department (state) of La Guajira two months ago and moved to an undisclosed location in the country.
The Rev. William Reyes disappeared on Sept. 25, 2008, en route to Maicao from the neighboring city of Valledupar. Since March 2008, the pastor of Light and Truth Inter-American Church and active member of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao, had been receiving extortion threats from illegal armed groups operating in the La Guajira peninsula.
Family members have not heard from Pastor Reyes since, nor have his abductors contacted the family to demand ransom.
Two incidents earlier this year alerted his wife that she and her children were in danger from the kidnappers. On Jan. 15, an unidentified man appeared at the Inter-American Church in Maicao and asked for Idia Miranda Reyes. When he was told she was not there, the man asked for her address and cell phone number, which church workers refused to give him.
Before he left, the man said testily, “It is in [her] best interest to get in touch with me, than for me to have to find her.”
Six days later, Luz Nelly Reyes was approached by a stranger on the street (the family believes it was the same man), who told her that if she wanted to see her father again, she should come with him. The girl declined the invitation. When he attempted to grab her by the arm, Luz Nelly fled.
“I have not reported this to police, because I’m afraid,” her mother told Compass after the incident. “They could do something to me.”
Through sobs she added, “We never conceived of this happening to us. I just wish they would tell us if they have him or not.”
Idia Miranda Reyes waited to leave Maicao until Luz Nelly completed her senior year in high school; the 17-year-old graduated on March 28. According to sources, the Inter-American church is contributing a modest living allowance to the Reyes family.
Reyes is not alone in her fears; Colombia suffers the highest incidence of kidnapping in the Western Hemisphere and a homicide rate 11 times greater than in the United States.
Due to general lawlessness, Colombians often face harassment from the same criminals who kidnap or murder loved ones. Violent crime is so common in the country that half of the felonies are not reported to police, and only one in nine makes the newspapers.
Another Maicao kidnapping in February underscores the problem. Armed men abducted a woman from a church just a few blocks from the Light and Truth church – while worship was in progress. The pastor of that church later refused to disclose the victim’s identity or discuss the circumstances of her disappearance, citing concerns for the safety of his congregation.
Evangelical Christians are not always passive victims of crime, however. Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-affiliated organization based in Bogotá, and The Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Churches of Colombia (CEDECOL) have organized an international prayer and action campaign in response to the Reyes family crisis.
The campaign mobilized concerned citizens to petition the office of Attorney General Dr. Mario Iguarán, asking that authorities conduct a thorough investigation into Pastor Reyes’ disappearance and report their findings to Commission Coordinator Ricardo Esquivia and Jenny Neme, director of Justapaz.
“Despite hundreds of letters from church members in the United States, Canada and across Europe, and repeated attempts to get a response from the Colombian Attorney General´s Office, we have yet to receive any information from them regarding progress in the case,” said Michael Joseph, who coordinates the Reyes case on behalf of CEDECOL and Justapaz. “We’re doing our best to make sure Pastor Reyes’ case is not forgotten.”
The Reyes family joins other “internal refugees” who live as exiles in their own country. Unchecked political and social violence have forced innocent victims – many of them widows and children – to abruptly abandon homes and careers. They must take up life in crowded, far-off cities in order to protect themselves and their children from further attack.
According to estimates, Colombia now has 3 million internal refugees, the second largest population of displaced persons in the world after Sudan.
Report from Compass Direct News
One pastor missing, three others reported killed in past month.
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia, November 4 – Christians in Colombia are anxious to learn the fate of pastor William Reyes, missing since Sept. 25, even as three other pastors have gone missing.
Reyes, a minister of the Light and Truth Inter-American Church and member of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao (FRAMEN, Fraternidad de Ministros Evangélicos de Maicao), left a meeting in Valledupar, Cesar, at 10 a.m. that morning heading home to Maicao, La Guajira. He never arrived.
Family members and fellow ministers fear that Reyes may have been murdered by illegal armed groups operating in northern Colombia. Since March of this year, FRAMEN has received repeated threats from both the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and right-wing paramilitary units.
Abduction is another possibility. Often criminals hold their victims for weeks or months before contacting family members to demand ransom, a tactic designed to maximize the anxiety of the victim’s loved ones before proceeding with ransom negotiations.
In the past month, three other Christian pastors were reportedly killed in separate incidents across the country. According to Pedro Acosta of the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia (CEDECOL, Consejo Evangélico de Colombia), two ministers died in the northern Caribbean region and a third in Buenaventura on the Pacific coast.
At press time, members of the Peace Commission’s Documentation and Advocacy team, which monitors cases of political violence and human rights abuse, were traveling in those areas to verify the identities of the victims and circumstances of the killings.
Demand for Action
On Oct. 4, churches organized a public demonstration to protest the disappearance of Reyes. Thousands of marchers filled the streets of Maicao to demand his immediate return to his family. The FRAMEN-sponsored rally featured hymns, sermons and an address from Reyes’s wife, Idia.
Idia Reyes continues to work as secretary of FRAMEN while awaiting news of her husband. The couple has three children, William, 19, Luz Mery, 16, and Estefania, 9.
CEDECOL and Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-based organization that assists violence victims, launched a letter-writing campaign to draw international attention to the case and request government action to help locate Reyes.
“We are grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support from churches in Canada, the United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom,” stated an Oct. 26 open letter from Janna Hunter Bowman of Justapaz and Michael Joseph of CEDECOL’s Peace Commission. “Human rights violations of church people and of the civilian population at large are ongoing in Colombia. Last year the Justapaz Peace Commission program registered the murder of four pastors and 22 additional homicides of lay leaders and church members.”
Some of those killings may have been carried out by members of the Colombian Armed Forces, according to evidence emerging in recent weeks. Prosecutors and human rights groups have released evidence that some military units abduct and murder civilians, dress their bodies in combat fatigues and catalogue them as insurgents killed in battle.
According to an Oct. 29 report in The New York Times, soldiers commit the macabre murders for the two-fold purpose of “social cleansing” – the extrajudicial elimination of criminals, drug users and gang members – and to gain promotions and bonuses.
The scandal prompted President Alvaro Uribe to announce on Wednesday (Oct. 29) that he had dismissed more than two dozen soldiers and officers, among them three generals, implicated in the murders.
Justapaz has documented the murder of at least one evangelical Christian at the hands of Colombian soldiers. José Ulises Martínez served in a counterinsurgency unit until two years ago, but left the army “because what he had to do was not coherent with his religious convictions,” according to his brother, pastor Reinel Martínez.
Martínez was working at a steady job and serving as a leader of young adults in the Christian Crusade Church in Cúcuta on Oct. 29, 2007, when two acquaintances still on active duty convinced him to go with them to Bogotá to request a pension payment from the army. He called his girlfriend the following day to say he had arrived safely in the capital.
That was the last she or his family heard from him.
Two weeks later, Martínez’s parents reported his disappearance to the prosecutor’s office in Cúcuta. The ensuing investigation revealed that on Oct. 1, 2007, armed forces officers had presented photographs of Martinez’s body dressed in camouflage and identified as a guerrilla killed in combat. Later the family learned that Martínez was killed in Gaula, a combat zone 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Bogotá.
Such atrocities threaten to mar the reputation of Colombia’s Armed Forces just as the military is making remarkable gains against the FARC and other insurgent groups. Strategic attacks against guerrilla bases eliminated key members of the FARC high command in 2008. A daring July 2 rescue of one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other high-profile FARC hostages was greeted with jubilation around the world.
Yet in Colombia’s confused and convoluted civil war, Christians are still targeted for their role in softening the resolve of both insurgent and paramilitary fighters.
“I believe preventative security measures must be taken in order to protect victims from this scourge that affects the church,” Acosta said in reference to the ongoing threats to Colombian Christians. “In comparison to information from earlier [years], the cases of violations have increased.”
Report from Compass Direct News