Imprisoned for Neutrality
On June 19, 1949, a group of exiled Dominicans flew to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo. Although the invasion was quickly crushed, Trujillo’s government imprisoned those who refused to perform military service, as well as any whom the government viewed as foes. Among the first Witnesses to be imprisoned for refusing to do military service were León, Enrique, and Rafael Glass, along with some of León’s fellow employees, who were also Witnesses.
“[My fellow employees and I] were arrested and questioned by the military secret service,” explained León. “After being threatened, we were released, only to be called up for military service a few days later without the usual procedure. On refusing to meet the demands, we were sent to prison. There we found four other Witnesses, two of whom were my fleshly brothers. After our release, we were again sentenced. This happened three times, with only one or more days between terms. We spent close to seven years in prison, the last term being five years.”
‘Even when we were whipped or beaten with sticks and rifles, we bore it well, since Jehovah gave us the strength to endure’
Prison life was a constant test for the brothers. Prisoners and guards taunted them day and night. The commander of Fort Ozama, where they were initially incarcerated, said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses, when you become witnesses of the Devil, advise me, so that I can let you out.” However, opposers could not break the integrity of those faithful brothers. León explained why: ‘We always had strength from Jehovah to endure and we could see even in little details His intervention in our favor. Even when we were whipped or beaten with sticks and rifles, we bore it well, since Jehovah gave us the strength to endure.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses Banned
Elsewhere throughout the country, enemies of true worship were intensifying the persecution. Even so, by May 1950, there were 238 publishers in the Dominican Republic, in addition to the missionaries. Twenty-one of the publishers were full-time pioneers.
About that time, a secret service agent wrote to the Presidential Secretary, saying: “The members of the religious sect Jehovah’s Witnesses have enthusiastically continued their activities throughout all of the sectors of this city [Ciudad Trujillo].” He further stated: “Once again I say that special attention must be given to Jehovah’s Witnesses, since their preaching and activities are creating a misleading consciousness in certain sectors of public opinion, especially with the popular masses.”
The Secretary of the Interior and Police, J. Antonio Hungría, asked Brother Brandt to submit a letter stating the position of the Witnesses on military service, flag salute, and the paying of taxes. He wrote a letter using information from the book “Let God Be True.” Nevertheless, on June 21, 1950, Secretary Hungría issued a decree that banned the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Dominican Republic. Brother Brandt was summoned to Hungría’s office to hear the decree personally. Brother Brandt asked if the missionaries had to leave the country. Hungría assured him that they could stay as long as they obeyed the law and did not talk to others about their religion.*
In the weeks leading up to the decree, Catholic priests wrote lengthy newspaper articles denouncing Jehovah’s Witnesses and falsely linking them with communism.