They would turn against God if they resisted. A US court has sentenced a Mexican church leader to 17 years in prison for sexually abusing children. The prosecution had called for a much harsher sentence.

The leader of the international parish Iglesia la Luz del Mundo (Church of the Light of the World), Naasón Joaquín García, was sentenced to almost 17 years in prison on Wednesday in Los Angeles for sexually abusing children. As part of an agreement with the public prosecutor, the verdict was less harsh than the prosecution had demanded. Victims of the Mexican sharply criticized the court decision.

Convict sees himself as Jesus’ last apostle

According to prosecutors, García forced underage girls to engage in sexual activity. Accordingly, he had threatened them that they would turn against God if they disobeyed his wishes. The 53-year-old sees himself as Jesus’ last apostle. The Iglesia la Luz del Mundo, based in Mexico, claims to have around five million followers worldwide.

García was arrested in June 2019. An initial charge of human trafficking and child rape was dropped on formal grounds. García initially denied all allegations, but eventually pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of three minors.

Victim feels “abandoned” by justice

The Iglesia la Luz del Mundo continued to defend its leader, declaring its “public support for the Apostle of Jesus Christ.” The evidence against Garcia was fabricated and he had no choice but to reach an agreement with prosecutors as he did not receive a “fair and just” trial.

One of the victims criticized the court on Wednesday for “having negotiated with this rapist”. Another victim stated that she felt “abandoned” by the judiciary. “This man should be locked up for life,” demanded another of his victims.