At least four Christian men recently suffered serious injuries after they were stabbed, forced to eat pages of the Bible, and had “crosses” etched into their skin by eight hooded men, according to a persecution watchdog organization.
The attack by men suspected to be criminals from a drug gang took place at Restoration House in the city of Libertador on Feb. 16, Open Doors reported Friday. Restoration House is a church-led drug rehabilitation center in Venezuela’s Mérida State.
The charity, which works with persecuted churches in over 60 nations, explained that Christians, who deter people from criminal lifestyles, are often seen as a threat to the illegal activities of drug gangs in Latin America.
“The criminals covered our faces and started to beat and stab us,” a victim was quoted as saying. “They drew ‘X’ on our bodies and forced us to eat the Bible.”
While the four Christians have been discharged from the hospital, one of them remains in poor health due to two broken ribs and injuries to his lungs and head. Two others had casts put on their legs and arms.
“Weeks before the attack, in the middle of a meeting discussing neighborhood issues, two men said they were going to end the Restoration House because they did not agree with this type of program,” Pastor Dugarte, who founded the center with his wife, told Open Doors.
Pastor Dugarte remains strong in his faith, and he will carry on with the ministry in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Calling for an investigation, the Evangelical Council of Venezuela attributed the attack to “hatred towards religion,” according to Premier Christian News.
“The cutting of crosses into the bodies of these young Christians, and the forced eating of pages of the Bible is deeply disturbing,” Dr. David Landrum, Open Doors UK’s director of advocacy and public affairs, was quoted as saying.
“This premeditated attack has all the hallmarks of the local ‘collectives’ of the Maduro regime. This shows how Venezuela has become a dictatorial narco-state which is violently opposed to the drugs rehabilitation work of the church.”
Open Doors noted that while Venezuela is not in its 2021 World Watch List of the top-50 countries where Christians are persecuted, Christian persecution in other parts of Latin America is increasing.
President Nicolás Maduro has been in office since 2013. In 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions against Venezuelan government officials and others accused of “undermining democracy in Venezuela.”
“Under Maduro, the Venezuelan government has deliberately and repeatedly abused the rights of citizens through the use of violence, repression, and criminalization of demonstrations,” the department said in a statement at the time. “At his direction, the regime’s security forces have systematically repressed and criminalized opposition parties through arbitrary detention, military prosecution of civilians, and the excessive use of force against demonstrators. Any member of the opposition or critic of the regime risks being detained, imprisoned, assaulted, tortured, and assassinated.”
Maduro’s victory in the 2018 election was denounced as fraudulent by several countries, including the United States.