Mexico's evangelicals appeal to UN


By Carlos Martínez, reporter for La Jornada writing in Protestante Digital. [Ver en español.]

MEXICO CITY - The ongoing and increasingly brutal religious intolerance in rural Mexico - especially in the state of Chiapas - continues to claim victims. In recent years, evangelicals have reported assaults on their person, destruction of their homes, and expulsion from their communities. Others have been victims of murder and rape.

The most recent incident in the town of Nachig on June 26, 2010, even prompted a formal denunciation before the United Nations.

Nachig has become the epicenter of Mexico's religious intolerance issues. Since 2009, evangelicals in Nachig have suffered the arbitrary loss of services such as electricity, water and telephone for "unwillingness to cooperate with and take on religious duties that clash with their principles and liberties, guaranteed by the Constitution," a group of the victims said.

Nachig's evangelicals have suffered physical attacks, including the burning of their automobiles and a church building. Others were expelled from their communities with the full complicity of the local authorities.

Mexican federal officials have intervened only far enough to start a round-table dialog among the parties, which has resulted in some evangelicals being allowed back into their homes on the condition that they "stop openly professing their faith", according to a report by the Nachig evangelicals.

The report is in response to the events of June 26, when a group of evangelicals was assaulted during their participation in a political event organized by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

"This time the attackers intended to take our lives," the evangelical group said.

The attack exploded at the conclusion of a speech by a local candidate for mayor of Zinacatan. A loose band of people, led by local politicians and community leaders, all affiliated with the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), began attacking with stones, sticks, containers of gasoline, and firearms. In the end, 52 cars and 11 houses were burned.

"If the police had not stepped in, these guys would have burned a dwelling with 80 people inside - men, women and children," the victims stated.

"As of this writing, none of the guilty have been punished - though they are easily identified. But the government meanwhile has inexplicably detained our brothers who previously were victims and now - by some magical twist - have become suspects," the report alleged.

Reports indicate that five individuals were detained after being rescued from their own burning houses and being blamed for some of the acts of violence. The evangelicals' formal denunciation called for their immediate and unconditional release.

"We cannot take any more of this impunity we see in our state due to the government's refusal to apply the rule of law," the victims continued in the report.

This deteriorating state of affairs is why the victims have spoken out now to civil society groups and to representatives of international organizations, the group said. The report also includes the names of those the group believes is responsible for the attacks in Nachig.

The group felt compelled to denounce "the violations of human rights that so many of our brothers in the faith have suffered, just for being evangelical".

On July 27, some of the evangelicals who lost their homes took their petition to the United Nations. Calling themselves "evangelical refugees", the group of eight signatories requested that those they represent - numbering more than 500 - be formally designated as "refugees" and receive protections as such.

The refugees told the United Nations that they have all moved into a church in the town of San Antonio del Monte (in the state of Chiapas) and that the group lacks food and has gone without medical attention for numerous injuries suffered in the month since they were forced out of their homes.

The rule of law must be applied to the aggressors, constitutional rights guaranteed to all evangelicals, communities must be secured and all damages the aggressors inflicted must be made right, the petition demanded.

Even as the displaced evangelicals were attempting to go back to their homes, the governor of Chiapas offered no assistance or protection, according to the San Antonio del Monte refugees. The very same people who had forced the evangelicals out of their homes initially were being allowed to block or to determine the conditions of their return.

Observers charge that the Mexican government is utterly failing to protect and guarantee religious freedom to anyone who is not Catholic, even as the government protects historical Catholic privileges.

"In the predominantly indigenous regions of this country, where evangelical Christianity is growing, we see many such unpunished criminal acts," journalist Oscar Moha told Protestante Digital by telephone.

According to Moha, conservative priests have reacted very negatively to the waves of evangelical conversions by encouraging physical attacks on the converts and pushing the converts out of their homes and communities.

"When the Gospel changes the lives of indigenous people, suddenly the privileges of local political bosses and the religious hierarchy become vulnerable," Moha said.

[Photo by Steven Alva.]