The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states that all are equal before the law. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution grants automatic official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church and states that other religious groups may also apply for official recognition through registration. On April 6, an appellate court upheld the original 30-year sentence of Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides handed down in 1992 for his role in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests. The court also upheld the 1992 acquittals of four ex-soldiers accused of participating in the killings, whom authorities had arrested in February 2016. The court stated it upheld the four acquittals because it could not retry the accused for the same crime. On August 18, the Supreme Court ruled against enforcing an INTERPOL arrest warrant for the 13 remaining individuals accused in Spain for the same crime, citing previous rulings that Spain did not have primary jurisdiction in this case.
Leaders of Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and other Christian communities continued to report that members of their churches sometimes could not reach their respective congregations in MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang-controlled territory due to fear of crime and violence. In certain sectors of the country, gang members controlled access in and around communities, and there were reports that gangs expelled or denied access to church leaders and charity groups with religious affiliations. There were also reports that gang members engaged in the extortion of organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, demanding a “tax” in order to operate in some territories. According to the Lutheran Church, interfaith groups continued to meet throughout the year and helped reinforce societal respect for the contributions of the country’s religious communities. The Religions for Peace collective, comprising representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Jewish, indigenous, and Muslim religions, worked together on the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace, focusing on reintegration programs for all prisoners regardless of religious affiliation after release from incarceration.
U.S. embassy officials discussed with the ombudsman for human rights the importance of government officials’ carrying out their official duties regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs. In meetings with Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders, embassy officials discussed the difficulties religious groups experienced in attempting to reach followers in gang-controlled territories, stressing the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the ombudsman for human rights. Members of non-Christian groups did not raise similar concerns.