Colombia removes police chief who said exorcisms were used to catch fugitives

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Colombian President Gustavo Petro has removed the national police director who had talked about using exorcisms to catch fugitives.

Neither Mr Petro nor the Defence Ministry elaborated on reasons for the dismissal of General Henry Sanabria, a staunch Catholic who was appointed by the president in August last year, but Gen Sanabria was under an internal investigation by the ministry over whether he had inappropriately allowed his religious beliefs to infringe on his duties.

The general had sparked a debate about the impact of his faith on the police after his statements in an interview last month including that police had used exorcisms to catch drug kingpins and guerrilla leaders.

He also issued a strong condemnation of abortion, which is legal in Colombia.

Gustavo Petro
Gustavo Petro (Ivan Valencia/AP)

Mr Petro, who was sworn in as the country’s first leftist president last August, said Gen Sanabria would never be persecuted over his religion, but there must be separation between religious beliefs and the state.

Interior minister Alfonso Prada said Gen Sanabria’s departure had nothing to do with his expressions of his religious beliefs as the government respects freedom of thought. He said only that the dismissal was part of a new start for the national police force.

In a Twitter message, Mr Petro thanked Gen Sanabria for his work without referring to the reason for his removal.

Gen Sanabria will be replaced by a retired general of the police force, William Salamanca, who is Colombia’s consul in Miami.

In an interview in Semana Magazine last month, Gen Sanabria said police forces carried out exorcisms to catch leaders of drug trafficking gangs and guerrilla groups.

He also spoke out strongly against abortion, which has been legalised in Colombia by the Constitutional Court since February last year.

Gen Sanabria said abortion is a “very serious sin” because it implies “killing a little person who is being formed”.

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