Themes: Social hostilities, hate crimes, government failures
In Brazil, followers of traditional Afro-Brazilian religions are facing violent attacks from neo-Pentecostal neighbours and gangs who consider their religion to be demonic and evil. In 2017, hate crimes against practitioners of Umbanda and Candomblé in Rio de Janeiro represented 90% of the cases reported to the state of Rio’s public complaints hotline. Reported cases of religious discrimination nationwide had increased 4960% in five years.
Regular attacks on worshipers began approximately one year after Father Márcio Virginio opened a Candomblé house in northern Rio de Janeiro. Stones were thrown from the neighbouring building, breaking parts of the roof and an image of Caboclo, an orixá worshipped in the house. “When we find a broken image of a spirit it makes me sad, because it is the home of our sacred entity.” Father Márcio put a tarpaulin over the courtyard to prevent people from being hit by the stones being thrown during religious ceremonies. “My house has a lot of old people, people who come in wheelchairs. People already arrive in fear.”
Father Márcio reported the assaults to the police when they became more frequent. He says he went to the station at least 20 times to make more complaints. “They did nothing,” he says. Advocates of religious freedom see a link between police inaction and prejudice.
The rise in violence appears to be linked to a rise in neo-Pentecostalism among members of criminal gangs, with drug traffickers attempting to banish traditional religions from the drug territories they control. In September 2017, the terreiro of the priestess Carmen de Oxum was attacked in Nova Iguaçu. In a cell phone recording of the attack a trafficker can be heard giving orders to destroy the sacred objects:
“Break everything, put out the candles, for the blood of Jesus has power… All evil must be undone in the name of Jesus.”
Rio on watch