150 Christians forcibly displaced in Mexico pressured to accept illegal agreement

Plight of displaced Baptists is dire

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A group of over 150 Protestant Christians have been forcibly displaced from their communities in Mexico’s Hidalgo state and government officials are pressuring them to sign an agreement that violates human rights protections under Mexican law, according to a U.K.-based persecution watchdog.

During a press conference this week, Pastor Rogelio Hernández Baltazar and church leader Nicolás Hernández Solórzano expressed their refusal to accept the agreement pushed by the municipal government of Huejutla de los Reyes, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported.

The agreement would allow local leaders responsible for the mass forced displacement to impose fines of 150,000 Mexican Pesos (roughly $9,000) on the victims, ban three families from returning, and permit other families to return under severe restrictions on their freedom of religion or belief, which have been in place since 2015, CSW said.

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Members of the Great Commission Baptist Church, displaced since April 26, initially found shelter in the Municipal Presidency building and were later moved to another location. As the municipal government ceased providing essential supplies, they have been dependent on humanitarian aid and food provided by local churches. The group includes 75 children and infants, and the initial support provided was grossly insufficient to meet their needs.

Human rights violations linked to freedom of religion have been severe in the neighboring villages of Coamila and Rancho Nuevo since 2015. Local authorities have repeatedly attempted to force the religious minority to participate in Roman Catholic religious festivals, including financial donations and acts of worship. Despite detailed documentation of these incidents, the municipal government denies that these incidents are tied to religion.

“The position of the Huejutla de los Reyes Municipal Government is indefensible,” CSW’s Head of Advocacy, Anna Lee Stangl, said. “By pushing this illegal agreement, they make themselves complicit in the ongoing, egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief in Coamila and Rancho Nuevo. This is unacceptable in a democratic country like Mexico which guarantees freedom of religion or belief for all in its constitution and the international human rights conventions to which it is party.”

The group of displaced Christians has grown to over 150, with several individuals who were working outside the villages at the time of displacement not permitted to return home. Local Protestant churches in Huejutla de los Reyes are providing humanitarian aid and have joined in calling for government intervention to protect the displaced individuals’ rights.

Incidents of violence and persecution against the Protestant minority in these villages have been ongoing.

In December 2022, a church member was hospitalized in critical condition after being tied to a tree and beaten by village leaders, according to a previous report by CSW. Other community members have faced arbitrary detention, beatings, denial of medical care, job dismissals, blocked access to burial sites, and land confiscation. Since 2018, religious minority children have been barred from attending the local school.

Recently, in March, Pastor Rogelio Hernández Baltazar and other church leaders were arbitrarily detained for 48 hours. In early April, village leaders sanctioned the takeover of five plots of land belonging to church members, destroying crops and removing stones.

The plight of the displaced Baptists is dire. Despite seeking sanctuary in the municipal seat of Huejutla de los Reyes and requesting government action, they continue to face significant challenges.

The issue is compounded by the broader context of religious intolerance in Hidalgo. Under the previous governor, Omar Fayad, government officials publicly denied the existence of religious intolerance cases, despite CSW’s research showing Hidalgo as having one of the highest numbers of such cases in the country.

Extra-legal agreements, like the one proposed to the displaced Baptists, are often used in Mexico in place of proper justice mechanisms. These agreements violate the rights of religious minorities and are used to enforce religious uniformity.

In January 2020, Evangelical families in Huejutla de los Reyes were forced to sign a similar agreement renouncing their right to hold religious services under threat of being cut off from essential services.

If the state government refuses to protect the rights of religious minorities, the federal government must intervene, Stangl said earlier, adding that the government must address the culture of impunity that allows such violations to go unchecked, ensuring families can practice any religion or belief without facing illegal fines or pressure to renounce their beliefs.

The persecution of Christians in Mexico has risen due to various factors, including drug cartel violence, traditionalist Catholic practices and discrimination by anti-Christian groups. Open Doors USA has reported an increase in such incidents, with Mexico rising in rank on its World Watch List.

Traditionalist Catholics often persecute Mexican Christians, Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry told The Christian Post in an earlier interview. In this way, they resemble many small, rural groups of people practicing ancient folk religions around the world. Open Doors calls this kind of persecution “clan violence.”

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