March 1 (UPI) -- Vilma Trujillo García, a 25-year-old woman in Nicaragua, died after after a religious group threw her into a fire to "purify her soul" and forced her to fast for six days while tied up, officials said.
Juan Gregorio Rocha Romero, 23, who identifies himself as an evangelical pastor, is accused of leading the religious group, La Prensa reported. Police said they arrested Rocha Romero and four other members of the Assembly of God church accused of participating in the events that led to Trujillo García's death.
Trujillo García was found dead hours after she was burned on Tuesday. Rocha Romero denied wrongdoing, alleging demons lifted her body and dropped her on the flames. Pastor Sabas Calderón, who said he spoke with the participants of the act, said those involved believed the "purification" ritual came through a "revelation."
"Well, the revelation that God gives us is that we must light a fire and pass her through the fire because the spirit of healing is in the fire. She will pass through the test of fire and it will purify her soul," a participant said, according to Calderón.
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Managua Silvio José Báez on Tuesday said the incident was caused by "fanaticism and religious ignorance."
"I am very sorry about Vilma Trujillo's death because of fanaticism and religious ignorance. You cannot destroy a life in the name of God!" José Báez said in a statement. "Authentic religion, in which the true God is worshiped, does not annul reason or [take] attempts against human life."
Some human rights organizations said Trujillo García's death is a result of sexism, citing the crime should be considered an act of femicide -- a gender hate-crime term describing the violent and deliberate killing of a woman -- and Rocha Romero should be punished to the full extent of Nicaragua's anti-femicide laws.
"We demand that the full weight of the law be applied, a maximum penalty before a heinous crime. This guy does not deserve to be called a pastor," Herenia Amaya Parrales, a member of the Human Rights Defenders Initiative Human Rights of Women, told reporters.