COVID-19 arrests for religious gatherings in Chile

SANTIAGO – The ADF International has filed a request for emergency cautionary measures with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights regarding the arrest and ongoing prosecution of Christian pastors for allegedly violating the COVID-19 health measures in Chile.

Currently, there is no blanket ban of religious services and gatherings, only measures on how to prevent the spread of the virus in the South American country.

In its request, the ADF said the pastors observed all existing measures.

Previously, the health authorities were forced to reopen all Catholic churches after they had unlawfully locked them.

“Chile has a good track record when it comes to protecting religious freedom. This makes it all the more disappointing to see pastors, who adhered to the current COVID-19 measures when holding religious services, targeted by the health authorities and arbitrarily arrested. There is no ban on religious services and doing so would be a grave violation of the fundamental rights Chile is committed to in a range of international human rights agreements. Restrictions on religious gatherings and worship must be applied with equal severity to other restrictions on public life, not more,” said Tomas Henriquez, Director of Advocacy for Latin America & Caribbean for ADF International.

Chile’s religious freedom violations during the pandemic

At the outset of the corona virus pandemic, the Chilean government announced a state of emergency. In several regions, local governments issued orders specifically prohibiting religious activities. In the city of Los Ángeles in the Bio-Bio region, health authorities targeted the local Catholic Diocese, sealing up all churches. Although legal challenges to this measure were rejected by the courts, health officials nevertheless reversed course and withdrew the unlawful orders against worship after negative press coverage and public pressure – allowing church doors to open once more.

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Now the same authorities who locked up Catholic churches arrested at least two pastors for holding allegedly illegal religious services. ADF International has called for an emergency intervention by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights ordering Chile immediately to halt the persecutory enforcement of this policy, to clarify its position with respect to religious gatherings, and to provide protection to leaders and attendees of religious gatherings from harassment.

Pastor’s death from COVID-19

Nearly two months, a 67-year-old evangelical bishop had died of COVID-19 in Chile after presiding over a service at a church in Paine, outside Santiago, attended by hundreds of people.

Mario Salfate breathed his last in a Santiago hospital after being admitted on March 23 “when he tested positive for COVID-19.”

Three other evangelical pastors who participated in the service later tested positive for the coronavirus.

Since the outbreak in March, Chile has recorded more than 142,000 cases of coronavirus, with more than 2,283 deaths.

Chile surpasses 142,000 cases of coronavirus, records 2,283 deaths