Argentinian Pastor’s Fight for Religious Freedom Continues
It has been almost 12 months since Argentinian pastor Marcelo Nieva survived an assassination attempt.
World Watch Monitor first met Pastor Nieva in May 2014, five months prior to the attempt on his life, when he openly declared that the introduction of a state law in August 2013, ostensibly intended to safeguard religious freedom, was having the opposite effect.
A year later, Nieva has been forced to leave his church in Río Tercero, a city in Argentina’s central Córdoba region, after the opposition against him and his Pueblo Grande Baptist Church became too great – pressure he claims originated with corrupt local officials unhappy with the impact the church was having on the sex and drugs trades. He said the lives of his wife Janet (now 24) and baby daughter Marta (then, just one-month-old) had been threatened, while pressure on his church members, the majority of whom were former drug addicts and prostitutes, has increased.
He is also now embroiled in two court cases—the first relating to the attempt on his life in October 2014, when he and colleague Daniel Carreño were shot at as they were driving through Córdoba city, the capital of the region. The second case is an appeal for justice related to his claims that his church has suffered four years of religious persecution at the hands of the local authorities.
Nieva told World Watch Monitor last year that his church had been denounced by politicians, the police and local newspapers as a “controversial sect” following the implementation in Córdoba state of a new law that claims to exist to “achieve early detection and prevention of any situation of psychological manipulation, and to provide assistance to victims of manipulation.”
However, Nieva said the law has been abused and leveraged against legitimate religious organizations, such as his Pueblo Grande Church, which is recognized by Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship. As a result of the denunciations against Nieva and his church, he said “hatred” grew against his church in the local community and police regularly attacked the church, smashing windows and ransacking church property.
Nieva added that the law, which is currently only in effect in the Córdoba region, could have a significantly negative impact on the rest of the country if it is applied elsewhere.
“The law is a threat to all Christian freedom in Argentina,” he told World Watch Monitor. “At first, it is affecting only our church, so people don’t understand the danger of it. But we know how dangerous it is because we are living through it.”
Both court cases involving Nieva are ongoing. On May 29, an appeals court hearing in the city of Villa María, 100 miles south of Córdoba, ruled in favor of Nieva and the Pueblo Grande Church, determining that his case must be heard in a federal court.
“Our case represents a big problem for the province because it was the police who raided our church, repeatedly assaulted the members of our congregation and failed to perform their duty as officials,” Villarroel added.
Meanwhile, a member of Nieva’s church is fighting her own court battle. Belen Aguilera, 26, a former prostitute, was pregnant when she sought refuge at the women’s shelter at Nieva’s church. Her former partner demanded she have an abortion, but Aguilera refused and gave birth to a daughter, Maitena.
After Maitena, who is now four, was born, Aguilera’s former partner took a DNA test to prove that he was the father and then took Aguilera to court to attempt to gain custody of their daughter. His claim was initially refused. In June 2014, however, Aguilera was arrested on charges of abusing her daughter—charges she denied and which Carolina Villarroel says were completely unfounded—and kept in prison for one month before being placed under house arrest for six months.
Though Aguilera is now free, her child remains with the father. A date has not yet been set for her next appeal.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Our Father, who hears the cry of Your people, who pours out grace upon grace, hear our prayer today on behalf of this church in Argentina. Thank You for the grace You have lavished upon them in drawing so many from lives into repentance and faith, and in breathing life into those who were lost in darkness. Strengthen and protect them, Father. Give them grace to face their current trials. Hasten the day when they are able to take their cases to the federal courts and give them favor so that Your gospel message might go out in their region in power and authority. And, we pray for Belen and her little daughter Maitena. Thank You for Belen’s courage in refusing abortion that she might give life to this child. Return Maitena to her mother, we pray, that she might be raised to know and love You. In the Name of Jesus, who in His great love protects and strengthens the faith of His people even in the midst of great trials, Amen.