Unexpected Freedom

Manuel Hierrezuelo was killed during questioning by authorities

Throughout the difficult years of the ban, Lennart and Virginia Johnson and Roy and Juanita Brandt remained in their missionary assignment. “Roy Brandt and I were called in for official questioning,” recalled Lennart. “Officials of the Trujillo government had earlier invited Brother Manuel Hierrezuelo to come and see them.” Tragically, Manuel was killed during the interrogation, having kept his integrity to the end. So, what happened to Lennart and Roy? Lennart continued: “Upon arriving, we were questioned separately, our answers evidently being recorded. Nothing more took place then, but two months later the newspapers announced that the Trujillo government was removing the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and that we could resume our activities.”

Before the ban in 1950, there were 261 publishers engaging in the preaching activity in the Dominican Republic. When the ban was lifted in August 1956, there were 522 declaring the good news. It was thrilling for the brothers to learn that they would be free to carry out their ministry openly after six years of imprisonments, restraint, and constant surveillance.

How did Jehovah’s people respond to that surprising turn of events? Right away, they began reorganizing the work! They searched for places to meet as congregations and made new territory maps and congregation files. The brothers were delighted to be able to order and receive literature. They zealously took advantage of  their newly acquired freedom to preach. As a result, in just three months, by November 1956, there were 612 publishers engaging in the preaching work.

The Clergy’s Hate Campaign

Toledano’s memorandum outlined plans to prevent our publications from getting into the country

However, the Catholic clergy immediately began scheming to discredit the Witnesses. Backed by the concordat that Trujillo had signed with the Vatican, the clergy intensified their efforts to influence the government to eliminate the Witnesses. Catholic priest Oscar Robles Toledano sent a memorandum to the State Secretary of the Interior, Virgilio Álvarez Pina, asking the government to support him in his effort to “awaken the conscience of the Dominican people to the extreme dangers posed by the sect ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’.”

Toledano explained that his primary objective was “to make ineffective the proselytizing campaign of  Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Toledano’s memorandum also recommended that our publications not be allowed into the country, “especially the book ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free’ and the Watchtower magazine.”

Banned Again

The religious leaders and their accomplices in Trujillo’s government joined in the plot to attack the Witnesses. Francisco Prats-Ramírez, president of the Dominican Party, wrote a memorandum to Trujillo in June 1957, explaining: “I am planning a series of meetings to combat the pernicious, antipatriotic tendencies of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

This slander campaign had an immediate impact, as explained in the book Trujillo—Little Caesar of the Caribbean: “During the summer months of 1957 the Dominican press printed a string of accusations by high Government officials charging the Jehovah’s Witnesses with ‘seditious and pernicious’ activities. The chain reaction was set off the day a Jesuit priest named Mariano Vásquez Sanz denounced the sect over the Trujillo-owned radio network, La Voz Dominicana [the Dominican Voice], as servants of Communism and labeled its adherents as ‘a perverse, astute, criminal, traitorous enemy.’ Thereupon a pastoral letter signed by Archbishops Ricardo Pittini and Octavio Antonio Beras invited the priesthood to protect their parishioners from this ‘terrible heresy.’”

The joint effort of Church and State achieved its objective. In July, the Congress of the Dominican Republic passed a law banning Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soon, our brothers were subjected to beatings and police brutality. In all, some 150 brothers were arrested.