In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
They were expelled for refusing to renounce their faith. Christians hope this case will set a precedent for religious freedom in Mexico.
After the agreement signed this week by Chichiltepec Village officials, two displaced Protestant men will return to their homes with guarantees of full religious freedom for all. The process was overseen by the Public Ministry in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.
Casto Hernández Hernández and his cousin Juan Placido Hernández Hernández, both members of the United Pentecostal Church of Mexico, were forcibly displaced in March 2015 after they refused to renounce their faith.
They were imprisoned on March 12, and village officials in Chichiltepec put them under pressure to renounce their Protestant faith. When they refused to do so after 30 hours, they were released and told they had 18 hours to leave the community.
EVIDENCES OF RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), along with the Mexican religious freedom organisation Impulso 18, met with the two men in April 2015 and decided to secure a funding for their legal representation by lawyers affiliated with Impulso 18.
Initial hearings with the State Commission for Human Rights (CEDH) focused on the religious intolerance instigated by the village delegate, Jesús Domínguez Hernández.
The defence presented a photograph showing the two men in detention and a 40-minute video of the assembly at which Casto Hernández Hernández was pressured to renounce his faith.
Additionally, a local representative from the State Human Rights Commission also gave testimony to support Casto and Juan Placido’s case.
AN ENDLESS PROCESS
Despite the open admission in early hearings by Domínguez Hernández to the CEDH that he had attempted to force the men to change their religious beliefs, the case dragged on for almost one year with the Public Ministry repeatedly cancelling or postponing hearings.
In October 2015, they confirmed CSW that they had been pressured by government officials, without their lawyers present, to drop the case and to return to their community. No guarantees were given that their religious freedom would be respected.
A change of personnel at the Public Ministry delayed the process when the incoming director said he wanted to fully review the case before making any decision. This review finished with the agreement, described as “groundbreaking” for the region by local NGOs.
“A PRECEDENT FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM”
“We, and more importantly Casto and Juan Placido, are very pleased with the outcome of this process. The village authorities came to the hearing planning to fight but when they realised they were only a step away from going to prison, they changed their position”, Impulso 18’s Director Dr Jorge Lee Galindo affirmed
They also hope that “this case will set a precedent in Mexico and contribute to an overall change in culture, where the law is applied correctly and religious freedom for all is upheld, as protected in our constitution and in the various international treaties to which Mexico is party.”
“We hope that this will lead to increased respect for religious freedom not only in the village of Chichiltepec, but in the state of Hidalgo and all of Mexico, and that local authorities will understand that there are consequences for violating the law and persecuting religious minorities”, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas stated.