By BosNewsLife Americas Service
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (BosNewsLife)– Christian activists on Monday, March 10, welcomed a report by the top human rights authority of Mexico’s southwestern Oaxaca state which recommends to compensate evangelical Christians for “torture” and damage done to their forcibly closed church building.
In a report, the Oaxaca State Ombudsman’s Office confirmed what it views as serious religious freedom violations in the municipality of San Juan Ozolotepec where in April 2013 local authorities declared the area a “‘Protestant-free” zone and closed the Pentecostal church with concrete tubes, chains and padlocks.
The municipal president, Pedro Cruz Gonzalez, reportedly called for the destruction of the church building and demanded that the church members pay fines of some 7,000 Mexican Peso ($530) for “not being Catholic”.
In November, tensions escalated when Cruz Gonzalez called for the Protestants to be lynched, imprisoned and tortured, Christians said. Four men associated with the church were reportedly arbitrarily detained and tortured and only released after state and federal intervention.
Reverend Leopoldo Alonso, leader of the Independent Pentecostal Christian Church in the town of San Juan Ozolotepec, and three church members Manuel Martínez Silva, Miguel Silva Reyes and Plácido Aragón, were reportedly jailed November 5 on orders of the municipal president, BosNewsLife reported at the time.
The ombudsman report, which only addressed the initial complaint from evangelicals but not the violence later in the year, also recommends that reparations be made for the damage to the church building and that the municipal authorities issue a building permit for the Pentecostal church.
Additionally, the ombudsman suggests that, “As a way to compensate for the damage done to the victims… the authorities [should] permit each and every one of the activities of the members of the evangelical community according to the internal regulations of their community, with due respect for their freedom of religious belief and worship, which they profess…”
Authorities should also offer them “all administrative and justice services that local government is obliged to provide,” said the report, which was distributed by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group.
The ombudsman’s report made clear that the evangelical Christians constitutional rights had been violated. “Excluding a segment of the population holding
beliefs different to the majority of the population [is] contrary to the provisions of the last paragraph of Article 1 of the Constitution of the United Mexican States,” it said.
That paragraph, “prohibits all discrimination on grounds of ethnic or national origin, gender, age, disability, social status, health status, religion, opinions, sexual orientation, marital status or any other that undermines human dignity and has the effect of nullifying or impairing the rights and freedoms of individuals,” the Ombudsman’s Office said.
The authority also said workshops should be organized for residents and local officials on human rights, with a priority on religious freedom, as recommended the state government to organize “roundtable dialogues” to involving different groups to reach a long term resolution to the religious conflict.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group “warmly welcomes” the findings of the Oaxaca State Ombudsman” while urging state and municipal authorities to “implement its recommendations as a matter of urgency.”
However he warned that amid “the severe escalation of the conflict late last year, and the failure of the government to hold those responsible for criminal acts accountable, we are concerned that the situation in San Juan Ozolotepec remains volatile.”
The state, Thomas said, “must take concrete steps to build a culture of respect for religious freedom in Oaxaca.”
It comes amid wider concerns of religious tensions in Mexico where Protestants, in including evangelical Christians, comprise less than 7 percent of the nearly 120-million strong, mainly Catholic, population, according to estimates released by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
One “important step” would be “to follow the recommendations of the Oaxaca state ombudsman and make training in human rights and religious freedom obligatory for all public servants, especially at the local and municipal level,” Thomas added.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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