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Evangelicals in Bolivia denounce new law that bans proselytizing

(Wikimedia Commons/Bamse)Church of Concepción in Santa Cruz, Bolivia is featured in this image.

Evangelical groups in Bolivia are voicing out their concerns about a new law that aims to ban proselytizing and other religious activities.

The National Association of Evangelicals in Bolivia (ANDEB) has stated that the new Penal Code of Bolivia amounted to "state abuse" against Christians because it could ban evangelism and prevent them from organizing religious events.

"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 penalised 5 to 12 years of imprisonment," article 88.1 of the new legislation states, as reported by Evangelical Focus.

In a statement, ANDEB called on the parliament to "begin the work of preparing a new Penal Code that reflects the social reality of Bolivia," and contended that a new legislation should "emerge from a consensus and a social agreement of all sectors of our country."

The group stated that "there has not been enough participation of the citizens" during the process of writing the new penal code that could restrict religious freedom in the country.

It went on to say that the new legislation "is imprecise, ambiguous, badly written, contradictory and its punitive power can constitute state abuse."

The new Penal Code "paves the way for any interested interpretations that can be used against our religious organisations," ANDEB said.

The legislation would affect an estimated two million evangelical Christians, representing approximately 19 percent of Bolivia's population. Other religious groups, such as Roman Catholics, Would be affected by the new measure as well, according to Evangelical Focus.

The ban on evangelism appears to be in conflict with Article 4 of Bolivia's basic law, which states: "The State respects and guarantees the freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, according to their worldviews. The State is independent of religion."

In 2014, ANDEB opposed another government measure that was aimed at regulating the granting and regulation of legal standing to churches and religious groups.

Under the law passed by the Bolivian legislative assembly in March 2013, religious organizations would lose their legal standing if they fail to comply with the measure. Churches were also required to provide a schedule of their annual activities to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and failure to submit the required paperwork could also result in the cancellation of the organization's legal standing.

The cancellation would allow the government to confiscate church properties, suspend worship services and close down training centers.

Evangelical Christians have recently taken to the streets to protest changes to the Penal Code. In La Paz, Several pastors have reportedly gathered outside the Bolivian national parliament to pray for religious freedom. This coming Sunday, Bolivia's evangelical churches are planning to hold a special day of prayer and fasting.

Journalists have also expressed their concerns about the new Penal Code as it would restrict freedom of speech and the freedom of the media.

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