7 evangelical Christians jailed for refusing to convert not to Islam but to Catholicism in Mexico

Pilgrims hold up images of the Virgin of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in honor of the Virgin, the patron saint of Mexican Catholics, at the Cathedral of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Dec.11, 2015.Reuters

Seven evangelical Christians are facing a different kind of persecution—this time not by Islamic radicals but, surprisingly, by fellow Christ-believing Catholics.

In a report carried by Charisma News, the International Christian Concern (ICC) said it has learned that the seven evangelical Christians were sent to jail in Chiapas, Mexico, on Dec. 15 after they refused to convert to Catholicism.

ICC said Mexican state and federal authorities had been informed of threats to illegally expel or send to prison members of the evangelical community in the area, but they refused to intervene.

The evangelicals earlier received an ultimatum to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion and imprisonment by local officials of the place where they reside—in Leyva Velazques, a municipality of Las Margaritas, Chiapas.

Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in Mexico where 82.7 percent of the people adhere to the faith, based on a census conducted in 2010. However, Mexico's Constitution explicitly protects the right of all citizens to profess and practice the religious belief of their choice.

Reports said the Catholics' ultimatum forced eight families in the village to sign documents indicating their willingness to convert to Catholicism.

But seven of their fellow evangelicals refused to sign the document and were sent to jail, according to Luis Herrera, Director of the Coordination of Christian Council of Churches.

Other evangelical Christians in the community are continually being pressured to renounce their faith by local officials of Leyva Velazques, according to ICC.

The Christian group said this incident shows the growing trend of religious persecution in rural areas of Mexico under the noses of state and federal government officials who refuse to do anything to protect religious minorities.

In June, ICC reported more than 70 cases of religious persecution against minority Christian communities in the states of Chiapas, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero. Each case involved 20 to 100 victims.

Isaac Six, ICC's Advocacy Director, has appealed to the Mexican government to stop the persecution of Christian minorities in the country's rural areas.

It is simply unconscionable for the state and federal governments of Mexico to repeatedly ignore the arbitrary arrest and expulsion of their own citizens by local governments on the basis of religious belief," he said.

"Today, hundreds of men, women, and children are homeless in Mexico because they chose to follow their beliefs, and because their government refused to act. We call on the federal government of Mexico to immediately intervene and halt the unlawful detention of members of the evangelical community in Leyva Velazques," Six said.