9 November 2016

Real 'wall' in Mexico is between evangelical and 'traditional' church as Christians are imprisoned and displaced

More than Donald Trump's infamous wall, the divide that concerns many Mexican Christians isn't a physical one between their country and America, but an invisible one between them and the 'traditionalist' church, a blend of popular Catholicism and indigenous paganism, leading to many evangelical Christians facing imprisonment and displacement.

Casto Hernández was ordered to leave his village for preaching the gospel in town of Chichiltepec. He was first asked to stop preaching by community leaders in 2014, but he refused. A year later, in March 2015, they asked him to stop again; this time when he refused he was imprisoned by the community leaders for 28 hours. They then took him to a meeting in front of the whole village - around 350 people - and told him that if he didn't stop preaching they would take away all of his possessions. When he refused once again, he was thrown out of his village.

Casto was able to return to Chichiltepec in February this year after going through two different representatives of the Attorney General's office and reaching a respect agreement with his village.

But not everyone is able to return. When Lauro Pérez Núñez and his family moved from Nezahualcoyotl to Chachalaca in 2014, they were given strict instructions that the only faith they were allowed to practice was the 'traditional' faith. However, Lauro had left the 'traditional' church and become a part of the 'Embajadores de Cristo' (Ambassadors of Christ) denomination. "In the beginning there were about 16 families in the village that practised [Evangelical Christianity]," Lauro said. "But the accusations that we were against the beliefs of the majority, that we were attempting to go against the community, made many stop expressing their ideas."

Lauro was imprisoned for 48 hours for refusing to give up his evangelical faith. When he still refused to return to the 'traditional' faith he was imprisoned again, and his family had various rights taken from them; his wife could no longer buy food, and had to get everything through Lauro's mother. Their children were also prevented from being enrolled in school.

After he was imprisoned for 48 hours for a third time, Lauro decided to take legal action, and went to another village to prepare his case. Although legally he was granted protection, when Lauro returned to his village in March this year, he was told that if he didn't leave the village the local authorities would throw him out. "As soon as they saw me, they told me I had an hour to leave," he said. "I showed them the judge's decision, but that made things worse. I started to receive death threats and I was told that I only had 15 minutes to leave."

They detained him violently, smashing windows and cutting off the electricity and water from his mother's house where he was staying. This time he was imprisoned for 55 hours; during this time he wasn't allowed visits or food and water. "I was told that if I did not drop the appeal to the district judge, they would take my mother's house away."

Finally, Lauro and his family fled with nothing, and now live in Ayotzintepec. They have been staying in their church, and a member of the congregation has given them a plot of land where they are building a house. "This situation has been really hard, but especially hard for my children," Lauro said.

The Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) has so far registered 380 people who have been displaced within Mexico because of religious intolerance this year. However, such displacement is often only registered when large groups of people are displaced at once; when the displacement just involves one family such as that of Casto or Lauro, the case often goes unrecorded, meaning the real figure may be much higher.

"The CMDPDH has requested that the Federal Government acknowledges that forced internal displacement in Mexico is a phenomenon that requires both objective quantification to be able to measure it, and effective measures to protect the people that have been forced to leave their hometowns because of general violence or violations of their human rights," said Brenda Pérez of the CMDPDH. "It is fundamental that the Mexican Parliament creates legislation on the matter and classifies forced internal displacement as a federal crime."

Open Doors has been working to advocate on behalf of persecuted believers such as Casto and Lauro. Open Doors also sponsored the First International Forum on 'Religious Persecution and its challenges' in March - a conference aimed at raising awareness about the ongoing religious intolerance of different states of Mexico. At the forum, the National Council for Religious Tolerance was launched, an initiative by Open Doors and other charities to promote religious freedom for all faiths in Mexico.

"As a result of the intense advocacy work of the field operations of Open Doors in Mexico and its partner organisations, the concerns about the ongoing religious intolerance were voiced in the Mexican Congress," reported an Open Doors source. Christian MP Hugo Eric Flores addressed the Mexican Chamber of Deputies (House of Representatives) and denounced the religious intolerance in the country.

"This was a historic public statement, because it was the first time that the issue of religious intolerance is formally condemned in a plenary session of the Mexican Congress," said the source.

Mexico is number 40 on the Open Doors World Watch List, ranking the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Open Doors provides immediate aid to Mexican believers when they are imprisoned, excluded from their families and communities, or deprived of livelihood and employment because of their faith. Open Doors also strengthens the persecuted church in Mexico primarily through advocacy support and research, literature distribution and training.

Photo of Casto:

Photo of Lauro and his family:

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For more information, call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777377 or 01993 777346.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.