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Xenophobic Persecution of a Free-thinker in Jericó, Antioquia

Actualizado: 17 sept 2020

By Manuel Espejo. English translation and adaptation for the international press: Edward Patrick Duigenan.


How lay can a country be, when the council’s sessions of an important town, are begun with a Catholic prayer and everything is carried out and processed under the eye of the image of a saint? This is what Edward Patrick Duigenan dared to ask in the town of Jericó where he has lived and worked as an artist and a private English teacher for the last ten years. Although born in Ireland, Edward is a Colombian citizen.

He made an enquiry to the town council with a “Right of Petition”, with the only intention of asking for a meeting with the State Corporation in a neutral space, free of images and religious bias, to talk about the due lay and no-confessional condition of the nation that the Council represents. He didn’t ask, in any moment, for the removal of any image or the changes in the traditions of the town. But this petition initiated a persecution equal to the times of the inquisition.

For some reason, unknown at the moment, but clearly lacking legality, news of the petition (a clear photograph of the document showing contact details) leaked to the diocese of Jericó, which published the photograph of the petition on its Facebook page with messages, wailing of indignation, twisting the information that Edward presented in his petition, announcing that “the minorities are looking to be right” because a citizen had asked to “remove the image of Saint Laura Montoya from the chamber (Laura Montoya was born in Jericó). Not happy with that, they sent their case to the media.

And, as one would expect, these publications had their desired effect, because Edward has been a target of criticism and insults, and fears that this will elevate to the plane of physical violence, which until now fortunately hasn’t happened. Things have gotten to the point that, in recent days, a letter has been circulating in the community, addressed to the mayor of the town, with the objective of acquiring signatures in a fanfare of xenophobia, with the clear objective for sowing discord based on false or twisted facts, soliciting the “no meddling of foreign persons in aspects of our identity and that carry out attacks of ridicule against our own symbols of religiousness”. Among the “meddling” mentioned by the “group of faithful Catholics” were: ”He complains about the sound of the bells; makes fun of the habits worn by the priests lancing vulgar and degrading expressions at them and has asked for the removal of the image of Saint Laura Montoya from the chamber where the sessions of the town council take place. None of these accusations are true.

Can it be that the people who have taken the time to diffuse this information weren’t conscious of the damage they were causing in the name of defending a supposed moral position or “safeguarding the good customs of the town”, but instead violating fundamental rights to privacy?

Edward says: “Jericó is a great place to live and it’s not fair that unnamable themes are imposed by others that believe that, with insults and damaging the reputation of others they will achieve their objectives to impede someone who thinks distinctly from questioning how the state functions, hoping to improve the conditions of the minority (a minority which is growing). Not all of the Catholic community is so intolerant of the concept of a lay state. There are those that really live the good teachings of their religion as well as knowing the norms of the nation. Incidentally, I am proud of the Constitution of 1991 and it would be a shame that it can´t be complied to, but that is the responsibility of all educational institutions that should have a more concrete role in its teachings. In the end, aren’t we privileged to form part of a democracy?”

It´s hard to grasp that in a country that claims to be “democratic”, where the Law of Religious Freedom was signed on July fourth 2018, the defaming of a free citizen is resorted to in order to preserve a hegemony. We feel obliged to air this case to show an example that this level of confessionalism hovers like a sword of Damocles over our liberty and that whatever attempt to debate or express ideas that vary from the prevalence of the Catholic Church means danger to someone’s physical and mental integrity.

We can’t ignore, in any way, or under any circumstances that our Political Constitution guaranties us spaces for discussion, and that in societies that are profoundly traditional like Cartagena, legal battles have had positive results for civil liberty, when the courts managed to impede a decree by the district that obliged the citizens of Cartagena to initiate all official acts with prayer. This is something which violates various articles of our Constitution guaranteeing all Colombians their fundamental right to religious freedom, and ethnic and cultural diversity.

From the association of Atheists of Bogotá, we will be watching this case, supporting Edward with the disclosure and necessary legal actions to be taken in order to preserve not only his indemnity and dignity as a free citizen, but also the right to discuss and build customs that welcome and respect all inhabitants of this nation, whatever our beliefs or conditions.

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