Police freed 14 local indigenous people from a ranch in a remote part of Bocas del Toro, Panama, where they were being held prisoner by an evangelical Christian sect that wanted to force them, by any means necessary, to repent of their sins.
The police became involved after three prisoners managed to escape. They alerted authorities to the ongoing situation after reaching a nearby hospital.
A raid on the facility, which belonged to the local New Light of God Church, revealed a ghastly scene. Survivors, including two pregnant women and some children, had been bound and tortured, beaten with Bibles and wooden cudgels, cut with machetes, and burned in an attempt at exorcism and conversion that had lasted nearly a week at the time of the police raid.
Seven more people did not survive the ordeal. Five of them were children. Their pregnant mother was also killed. The remaining murder victim was a seventeen-year-old neighbor. Their corpses were found in a freshly-dug grave not far from the ranch.
One of the ten men arrested in the killings was the murdered children’s grandfather.
Local prosecutor Rafael Bayoles says that murder was on the agenda for the remaining prisoners, too, if they failed to convince the church of their repentance.
They were performing a ritual inside the structure. In that ritual, there were people being held against their will, being mistreated. All of these rites were aimed at killing them if they did not repent their sins… One of [the leaders] said God had given him a message. That message apparently boiled down to making everyone repent or die.
Ten lay preachers — one of whom is a minor — have been arrested, but as yet very little is known about New Light of God: which denomination it might be affiliated with, what beliefs they embraced, and how they operated prior to the events of the week preceding the raid. A well-established local church with a similar name, Luz del Mundo, currently appears to have no ties to the group.
The ten men who rounded up families to convert and the twenty-four people they tortured are all part of Panama’s largest indigenous community, the Ngabé-Buglé, a semi-autonomous region heavily affected by poverty. The area is so remote, injured parties had to be airlifted to hospital by helicopter — which makes the escapees role in the rescue operation all the more remarkable.
Local leader Ricardo Miranda spoke up strongly against the group’s actions within the Ngabé community:
We demand the immediate eradication of this Satanic sect, which violates all the practices of spirituality and co-existence in the Holy Scriptures.
The scriptural justification the preachers used to back up their actions as biblical is unclear, but it shouldn’t take a holy book to recognize this as horrific.
(Screenshot via CNN)