Mexico: Displaced protestants refused re-entry to village amid ongoing religious freedom violations in Chiapas

A group of 47 displaced Protestants from Chiapas State, Mexico, were refused re-entry to their village despite state government promises that village leaders had agreed to uphold religious freedom.

The Protestants, who were forcibly expelled from Buenavista Bahuitz village in Chiapas State in 2012, were initially told that they could only return to their homes if they converted to Roman Catholicism and participated in Roman Catholic religious activities. According to Luis Herrera, director of the Coordination of Christian Organizations of Chiapas (COOC), the group later received assurances from the state government that they had negotiated the return of the displaced group and that their religious freedom would be protected.

The government promise of action came after a month-long peaceful sit-in in front of the state government palace in Tuxtla Gutierrez by the Buenavista Bahuitz group and other communities of forcibly displaced Protestants. The sit-in ended on 1 December after the state government made verbal commitments to address their situation.

The group set out for Buenavista Bahuitz in the early hours of 20 January by bus, accompanied by some state government officials. Upon arrival at the village, they were met by village leaders who demanded that the Protestants convert to Catholicism before they would be permitted to stay. Herrara noted that the government officials present appeared to be taken by surprise by the village leaders’ stance and questioned their preparations. Negotiations were held on the spot and the village leaders eventually agreed to allow the Protestants to stay if they paid a fine which Herrera described as “extremely high.” The group declined and returned to the grounds of a church in the city of Comitán de Domínguez Tuxtla Gutirerrez where they have lived in rudimentary housing for the past two and a half years. where they have been sheltered by the Jesus es el Camino church, pastored by Josue Perez Pardo.

The events of 20 January follow a series of serious religious freedom violations and forced displacements in Chiapas this month. In early January in the municipality of San Juan Chamula, tensions erupted after Protestants in the village of Las Ollas declined to participate in festivals celebrating the Roman Catholic patron saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadelupe. According to the  Organización de Pueblos Evangélicos de los Altos de Chiapas (OPEACH), the villagers had been compelled to pay financial contributions to Catholic festivals in the village over the past year, but had decided they would no longer do so in December 2014. They were subsequently attacked, beaten, and had their water and electricity cut on 8 January 2015. OPEACH stated that the village leaders have also threatened to bar the Protestant children from attending school and to block Protestant families from receiving state benefits allocated to the community.

On 14 January, a group of ten Protestants were forcibly displaced from the community of La Florecilla in San Cristóbal de las Casas municipality after having their water and electricity supplies interrupted, and after being physically attacked, arbitrarily imprisoned and given a deadline by village authorities to renounce their faith or be forced to leave. Local religious leaders in San Cristóbal de las Casas, who have offered refuge to the families, informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the problem had been going on since 2011 and that numerous complaints to the municipal and state governments had been made but no action had been taken to protect the rights of the group or to uphold the rule of law.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are extremely disappointed that the government of Chiapas did not follow through on its promises to assure the safe return of the Buenavista Bahuitz community and to uphold their religious freedom. The events of 20 January, which have occurred amidst serious violations of religious freedom and the forced displacement of religious minorities in other parts of the state, call into question the state government’s purported commitment to defending religious freedom and addressing these and the approximately 30 other cases of religious freedom violations in the state of Chiapas. We continue to call on the state government to meet its obligations under Mexican and international law and urge the federal government to intervene if the state government is unable or unwilling to fulfill it

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Christian Organisations Call for International Pressure on Mexico Regarding Religious Freedom

  19/11/2014

Credit: Coordination of Christian Organizations of Chiapas

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) joins Impulso 18, Open Doors-Mexico and Voice of the Martyrs-Mexico in calling on the international community to hold Mexico to account on religious freedom issues.

The joint call follows last week’s national conference on freedom of religion and belief in Mexico City, which included testimony from victims of religious freedom violations and contributions from experts on the topic.

The conference coincided with a peaceful protest by communities who have been forcibly displaced because of their religious beliefs, and which began on 31 October in front of the government palace in Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas. The protesters, including children and the elderly, are calling on the state government to address their cases as a matter of urgency. At least one of the affected communities has been displaced for more than five years.

Representatives from the protesting communities participated in the conference in Mexico City, organized by Mexican religious freedom organisation Impulso 18 and CSW. Fidel Lopez Hernandez of the Buenavista Bahuitz community, a group of 44 men, women and children who has been displaced since 23 July 2012, told those present at the conference that the government had shown little interest in resolving the case. No one from the town has been held to account for the arbitrary detention, physical violence and sexual assault which accompanied the forced expulsion of the Protestants.

Luis Herrera, Director of Voice of the Martyrs-Mexico, said, “Because of the way in which the different states in Mexico deal with cases of religious intolerance, we call on the different levels of government to pay special attention to find an immediate solution to these religious conflicts, especially considering the length of time some of these cases have gone on. This includes the State of Chiapas, which leads in terms of numbers of cases due to a reluctance to make significant decisions to tackle the root of the problem. We call on the government to develop the appropriate policies and to appoint capable civil servants, who will promote a message of tolerance in all communities for a healthy co-existence.”

Humberto Bayon, Director of Open Doors-Mexico said, “As coordinator of Open Doors in Mexico, the conference to which our entire team and representatives were kindly invited opened to us up a wider perspective on the issue of religious intolerance. While our organisation focuses mainly on our ‘family of faith’ (Galatians 6:10), it was refreshing to learn from the speakers and academics that one should not be tolerant of intolerance. For our team, learning how to use the mechanisms for appeal in international institutions like the United Nations and the European Union was the most worthwhile of that which we received during these days together.”

Dr Jorge Lee Galindo, President of Impulso 18, said, “Systematic religious freedom violations at all levels have been endemic in Mexico for centuries. Some of the most egregious are the forced expulsions of members of minority faiths, often accompanied by violence and the violation of other rights, including access to water and to an education, which occur mostly in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Oaxaca and Puebla. Rather than seeking to uphold the constitutional rights of these citizens, the government has tended to pursue extra-legal agreements that often result in the continued violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief. There is little political will in Mexico, on the state or federal levels, to properly address and resolve these cases; therefore we believe that international pressure and focused attention on the issue is key.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “It is unacceptable that in a modern and diverse democracy like Mexico these types of serious religious freedom violations continue to take place on a regular basis, affecting thousands of men, women and children, with no adequate response from the Mexican government at any level. We call on members of the international community, including the European Union and the United States, to actively monitor the religious freedom situation in Mexico and to hold the government to account under its obligations in the treaties to which it is party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Cultural, Social and Economic Rights – as a matter of urgency. Communities like that of Buenavista Bahuitz cannot afford to wait any longer for their rights to be upheld.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Law of Uses and Customs, which is in effect in many parts of the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Puebla and Guerrero, gives significant autonomy to indigenous communities. It is meant to be exercised in line with the fundamental human rights protections in the Mexican Constitution and international treaties to which Mexico is party; however, this is rarely enforced. Local leaders frequently try to enforce community uniformity in terms of religious practice and belief, compelling members of the community to participate in the religious activities of the majority or face punishment. Violations range in severity, but in the absence of government intervention, and because of a failure to hold the perpetrators to account, they all too often escalate to the point of destruction of property, arbitrary detention, forced displacement and violence.
  2. For more information see CSW’s report on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Mexico.

PS: Voice of the Martyrs Mexico works in the field and is the direct source for the majority of cases in Mexico. Work is done through the following programs:

  • Immediate Attention and Mediation
  • Women in the Breach and Family Workshops Vocational Training / Projects
  • Locos por Jesus Youth
  • Kids of Courage
  • Blessings and Humanitarian Aid

We are a Mexican national office of VOM which means we are self sustaining, receiving donations and offerings fronorganizations and the Body of Christ. It is no small accomplishment to do so in Latin America. You may make donations to the above programs through deposits to:

Name: MINISTERIOS VDLM VOM MEXICO, A.C.

Acct #: 0196498256 

Bank: BBVA BANCOMER S.A.

Swift: BCMRMXMMPYM    

ABA: 21000021

CLABE: 012130001964982561  

Number and Name of branch / Sucursal: 4439 – SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

Voice of the Martyrs Mexico IDOP #1: Iglesia Nazarena in Tuxtla Gutierrez

IDOP #1:

Iglesia Nazarena Tuxtla Gutierrez

idop 4Eduardo Lopez, leader of Tojolobal group expelled from  their own community of Buena Vista Bauhuitz in las Margaritas more than 2 years ago, shares their testimony in the first IDOP of the month.  Among Eduardo’s group there are some 40 people, with the birth 2 weeks ago of a baby after the Evangelical march in the capital. They remain faithful and firmly committed to their God and trusting in Him for their needs, despite having been threatened, having their possessions taken away, and finally being expelled from their lands. They have been sheltered in the buildings of their mother church in Comitan, where a number of them have found work to sustain their families, and where they have begun evangelizing others… for example through organized hospital visitation.

idop 3 On the 31st of this past October over 1000 Evangelicals marched in support of the persecuted Body of Christ in Chiapas, and when the government refused to attend to their situations, various groups stayed and set up camp in front of the Governor’s office in the park. There are now some 150 there, receiving support and encouragement from the regional Body of Christ…  drawn to the park to meet and fellowship with them.

idop 5The tiny Julia of Chilil, with Martha translating for her… both expelled from their community. Julia is a great woman of Christ with a heart on fire for sharing the Gospel and living her faith. No renuncio a mi Cristo / I will not renounce my Jesus, she said. when she was beaten, threatened with loosing all they had worked for, and finally was expelled with her family, a group of 30 in November 2009.

idop 10Maria Dolores Hernandez Bonifaz, Coordinator of the Kids of Courage program of VOM Mexico  organized and presented the first IDOP of 2014 with the special attendance of the Body of Christ persecuted in Chiapas Mexico. They represent the groups from Buena Vista Bauhuitz, Chilil, Mariano Matamoros, and Union Juarez. They are from both different regions and ethic groups, two of which are non Indigena Meztizo Mexicans.

Maria Dolores, better known for her Mexican diminuitive of Lolita, was assisted by her two adolescent sons… Isaac and Benji presenting VOM as a ministry in Mexico.

Lolita said afterwards:

“Praise the Lord, it was a great blessing for us having the opportunity to present Voice of the Martyrs as a ministry, especially accompanied by several of our brethren who are actually part of the persecuted Body of Christ here in Chiapas. Their opportunity to share their testimonies makes the IDOP more personal, knowing their brethren are camped out here in the capital, in front of the Governor’s office. They have shared their gratitude with God, knowing that He will respond to their petitions.  Their faith is unbreakable and tested, an example of their love and committment to their Lord and His for them. They understand that their time here is temporary, and pray that the Lord give them understanding, wisdom and patience  during this time… while hoping that the authorities will respond according to the laws that are established by the Mexican Constitution to guarantee their freedom to practice their religion.

The Nazarene Church expressed both its appreciation to VOM for its work, and its concern for the persecuted brethren who are so close… but until now, unknown to them.

We lift in prayer:

  • the groups who are camped out in the capital, waiting on those government officials who are appointed to attend them
  • the authorities in their communities who have rejected them for their Evangelical faith
  • and the petitions for other nations around the world where religious persecution exists.

 

Feedback on March of Evangelicals in Chiapas / Oct 31st

DSCF4997

One day after the Evangelicals marched on the capital of Chiapas, we are just beginning to hear and see what the effect was. Would you believe that in the early morning hours, at least 2 well known Evangelicals published favorable interviews lauding the state government for the advances it has made in the area of religious intolerance and actual persecution? Now, honestly, how does that look?  You have to ask:

  • Are these Evangelicals deceived by their own good relationships and what they have seen by government officials?
  • Are these Evangelicals bought and paid for by the state government or self interested political figures?
  • What would make or drive an Evangelical to be used this way when over 1000 people, principally Indigenas actually personally affected marched and expressed their pain in front of the government offices?
  • Would they have the courage to present themselves and face those brothers in Christ that they have betrayed by denying them, as Christ was denied by Peter?  How many times in the past have they denied their brethren?
  • What type of government would prefer to lie and manipulate Evangelical leaders than actually do what needs to be done to resolve the active cases, and change the system so that religious tolerance could actually take place?
  • What type of government advises its functionaries not to respond to a march of 1000 peaceful and humble people with real grievances of neglect, sabotaging their cases, and accusing them of protecting their own vested interests?
  • What type of government tells people that there were only 300 marchers that were there, and doesn’t let their own Secretary of State or the Governor know what is happening?
  • What type of governor allows his cabinet and functionaries to do what they wish without accountability?
  • Where were the rest of the Body of Christ, while some of their leaders marched with the persecuted church?
  • Where were the rest of the Pastors and leaders of the Evangelical community?
  • Why in the capital of the state do people not know that there are 70 cases of religious persecution and over 1400 people affected, not all Indigenas, but also various mestizo (Mexican) congregations expelled or persecuted? (Yashtinin and Matamoros to name 2).

DSCF4999The group from Buena Vista, waiting more than 3 years for a resolution other than packing up and allowing themselves to be re-located, is planting itself in the park in front of the government offices. They have already had several services with preaching and worship there! Pastor Josue, leader of one of the largest denominations in the state, returned to spend the night, encouraging them throughout the night. Other groups are stopping by to visit them, some bringing blankets, sweaters, cooked food, and also to leave them with words of encouragment. Other affected groups  are scheduling days or nights to spend with the Buena Vista group… because they are becoming one, as they are meant to be, despite language and cultural differences between one group and another.

  • How is it that the state government has for so long and so badly underestimated the endurance and strength of the humble Evangelicals, even when their leadership betrays them?
  • How is it that the state government preferred and decided to divide and conquer, by offering commissions, benefits, money, material possesions and political positions to Evangelicals , and thought they could always depend on following this same pattern of corruption and abuse?
  • How is it that the government functionaries haven’t realized that their neglect of duty, favoritism, and corruption will someday come to an end, and they will be judged both here and later on by a judge who can not be deceived or bought and paid for?
  • How is it that Evangelical leaders do not fear the Lord, who sees their actions, and knows their hearts?
  • Repent… those of you who are truly part of the Body of Christ, while you can! And while it can make a difference! You are being lifted in prayer along with the persecutors…

DSCF5013People passing by are reading the banners, asking questions, and beginning to read the Bible with them. Several government officials have stopped by to convince them to pick up and go home, trusting the government to do it’s job. The persecuted no longer trust their government, nor it’s officials, with the exception of a few. The Religious affairs office, and the regional directors are pretty much discredited in their eyes, for their personal experience dealing with them for at least several years.

If the state government is not up to it’s job, then they are willing to take their testimonies to a national and international level. They now know in their hearts that their trust is in the Lord… not in any government official or agency. They are drawing closer together, being strenghthened as a body, growing in their faith.

Please continue to lift them in prayer… several will be testifying in Mexico City next week, in a national forum about religious persecution in Chiapas, and others on an international level. They continue to lift in prayer those who have persecuted them, the government that has failed them, and one another. I invite you to join them in prayer and lift your voice to share their concerns and needs as you prepare to celebrate IDOP in your church this year.

March of 1000+ Evangelicals in support of Persecuted Brethren in Chiapas Mexico

DSCF4996The Persecuted Church in Chiapas, supported by the presence and participation of more than 1000 persons, many from the varied persecuted groups themselves, Friday, October 31st in their march in the capital: Tuxtla Gutierrez. A Voice was heard for the almost 70 cases documented just in Chiapas alone. The march began at 9:30 am, with groups who began their making their way to the capital from different points around the state at 3 am and were accompanied for the day long event by local churches in Tuxtla and from San Cristobal.

DSCF5010The groups representing all those persecuted in the state stated that God’s heart is in Chiapas, and lifted their authorities to Him in prayer during the day, and asked them, especifically the governor, to do what is just, and respect their rights.

DSCF5058The governor was not present, and the groups refused to speak again with Religious Affairs and government officials who have patently ignored them, or actively blocked the resolution of cases since 2008.

DSCF4989The event was planned and organized over a month ago by Luis Herrera, President of Ministerios VDLM-VOM Mexico known as Voice of the Martyrs Mexico, his wife Maria Dolores Hernandez, as Coordinator of Kids of Courage VOM Mexico,( with Pastor Oscar of Matamoros) and the collaboration through Coordinacion Organizaciones Cristanas of the groups affected and a number of organizations, ministries and churches… including: Open Doors, the Council of Evangelical Churches in Chiapas, the Confraternity of Evangelical Churches in Chiapas, various Pastors Alliances in San Cristobal de las Casas where there are several cases , Huixtan where persecution is still common, Teopisca municipality where many persecuted were re located in the past 30 years, and Comitan, which has seen both cases of persecution and been a place of refuge for those fleeing aggressions.

DSCF4992Pastor Clever, one of the more faithful voices and forces in support of the perscuted brethren with several of the brothers from the group in Mariano Matamoros… community no Indigena, beseiged and threatened constantly by their local authorities. Also indespensable is Pastor Josue and his congregations around the state, busy in attending to the practical needs like feeding all gathered there, and the Buena Vista group with plans on camping out in front of the governor’s office until he finds time to talk with them.

The day was disheartening as far as waiting to see some vestige of interest on the government’s part, but blessed in fellowship and encouraging one another. it is unusual for different ethnic groups to unite, passing over language and cultural differences… In Christ we are all united, and the time spent together was a day of being concerned for one another and rejoicing as ONE Family in Christ.

No action taken sincerely, and looking to glorify our God is in vain. All knew that our God is moving and working in the Heavens that which needs attention here in their humble lives.

DSCF4976Humberto (Director OD) with the group from Buena Vista.

 

Prayer Alert: Persecuted Evangelical Groups Marching in Chiapas October 31st

DSC_0040Photos from April 2014: March of Bible Heroes in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas; The children and teens of families persecuted for their faith and expelled from their communities had been invited to participate in a Childrens Day activity in the capital, and were prepared to express their thoughts and needs to government officials.  Some of the kids are members of groups that VOMC taped in December of 2009, for the Mexican Voices video.

DSC_0052 The Evangelical members of the communities of Chilil, Yashtinin and Buena Vista were present, marching in the Children’s Parade,  with the idea of sharing something of their testimonies and afterwards to speak with someone from the governor’s office about their situation.

Many of them have lost their schooling for several years… while they have also had to learn to speak Spanish and to accomodate themselves to a new urban culture.

DSC_0065 The government officials rejected abruptly the idea of receiving the children and youth, although they themselves are well known for their tendency for photo ops with kids in their publicity and campaigning: when it is convenient for them. One of the officials even commented that they could accuse the Evangelicals of manipulating the kids for their own agenda. 

Where is the so called respect or concern for the Children’s Declaration of Rights  when kids want to speak for themselves instead of waiting for politicians do it for them?

DSC_0082 Many of the young participants are now youth, and have been training as Sunday School Teachers or for VBS teachers in VOM Mexico’s program CAP / ED this past year.

They have proven themselves to be very capable, and having learned to speak Spanish are able to express their own needs!

DSC_0084 With this same voice and capacity they are able to share and teach the Word of God, sing to and praise the Lord, cry out about the injustices in their communities, and question the apathy of the government when it concerns the religious rights of Evangelical Indigenas.

This Friday the 31st of October, they will not be marching alone… they will be accompanied by their families, their churches, Pastors from the Chiapas Alliances, and their friends in Christ. 

Remembering the Day of the Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the doors of the Roman Catholic Cathedral almost 500 years ago, Evangelicals in Chiapas will march peacefully and respectfully, to draw the attention of a government which has in general not shown them much consideration or respect. And where the majority church has received preference where it should not.  And if the governor and his officials continue to ignore their cries, they will raise their voices on a  national level, and through their brothers and sisters in Christ on the international level in Mexico City next week, through those who are their voices where they have not been heard before.

They know that Almighty God hears them, and that He has no favorities, is not concerned about winning their votes, nor receiving gifts. They know He is not deceived , that He can not be bought, but that He is just and looks on them with affection, humble as they are, and understands their petitions to just return to their homes, to live and share their faith as it is their right.

The groups are carrying 12 municipal banners representing regions where religious persecution is still prevalent. And the Buena Vista group has decided to stay and camp out in front of the Governor’s mansion until he can give them a return date, or show reasonable progress in a supervised return to their community. Their decision is based on increased agressions suffered in the past few weeks from their community authorities and the obvious interference and colusion of government officials with them.

Please keep all in your prayers: the persecuted, the government officials and the community authorities themselves.

 

Prayer Alert: New Case in Pantelho, Chiapas

chiapasIn reference to: Voz de los Martires en Mexico

What is the reason for the increase in cases in Chiapas? Even though government sources say ” it isn’t so” ?

In the township of Sepelton, in the municipality of Pantelho,  15 Evangelical families had their water cut for not participating in the Catholic religious festival to celebrate the patron saint of the community. The local authorities claimed that the Evangelicals themselves were “in agreement” to have their water cut, however they neglected to explain that the authorities had given them the choice of paying and participating in the Catholic festival, or having their water cut. 
It’s now been 20 days without water; will we see them going from gov’t office to gov’t office to find someone who will attend to their case? Or will they actually tell them, as so many have heard, that it is their own fault for not participating in the Catholic festival even though they are NOT Catholic Or even worse, will the government deny that there is a case, or call it anything but religious persecution?  such as a familiy, land, or political problem?
We hope that this information will come forth in the next few days, but at least for now, We can thank God for the rainy season that the Evangelicals are taking advantage of, to store water for their basic needs meantime.
Luis Herrera of VDLM-VOM Mexico, known in mediation circles as Coordinacion Organizaciones Cristianas (Coordination of Cristian Organizations) explains: Coordinacion Organizaciones Cristianas  It is a cyclical theme, every year when the Catholic Patron Saint’s Festivals come around, the pressure towards Evangelical groups is right around the corner as well.
*LJP of VDLM-VOM : Until the roots of the problem are attended to, and the community authorities and key figures of the Roman Catholic church recognize the innate and Constitutional rights of freedom to choose and exercise one’s faith… this will keep on repeating itself. Unfortunately, the Mexican government- on all levels- is not interested in protecting the rights of Evangelical Christians who have little economical or political influence.