Two Mexican Protestants who were imprisoned and then expelled from their community for refusing to renounce their faith have been allowed to return to their homes with a guarantee of full religious freedom.
Officials in Chichiltepec, a small village in Tlanchinol municipality, signed an agreement overseen by the public ministry of the Mexican state of Hidalgo.
Casto Hernández, 31, and his cousin Juan Placido Hernández, 26, of the United Pentecostal Church of Mexico, were imprisoned by officials in Chichiltepec for allegedly celebrating non-Roman Catholic rites in Casto's home. While they were being held, they were put under pressure to renounce their Protestant faith. When they refused to do so after 30 hours, they were released and given 18 hours to leave the village.
The charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), working with Mexican religious freedom organisation Impulso 18, met with the two men soon after their explusion last spring and managed to get funding for them to be legally represented. Lawyers argued that they were shown religious intolerance, and showed evidence including a 40-minute video of the assembly at which Casto Hernández was pressured to renounce his faith.
The case dragged on for almost a year as hearings were cancelled or postponed. The two men even came under pressure to drop the case and return home but they decided to fight for guarantees that their religious freedom would be respected.
CSW said: "In November 2015, a change of personnel at the public ministry resulted in yet another delay when the incoming director communicated that he wanted to fully review the case before making any decision. This review came to a close with the agreement, described as 'groundbreaking' for the region by local NGOs, that was put in place earlier this week."
Impulso 18's Director Dr Jorge Lee Galindo said: "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. We 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, as protected in our constitution and in the various international treaties to which Mexico is party, is upheld."
CSW chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We are tremendously encouraged by the actions of the Hidalgo state public ministry this week and by the village authorities' recognition that freedom of religion or belief must be guaranteed for all. We commend the work of the legal team and all of those at Impulso 18 on behalf of Casto and Juan Placido, and note that their persistence and insistence that the law be upheld led to this result. As Casto and Juan Placido return to their homes following their courageous fight to defend their rights, 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."
Last month, ten Baptist families were expelled by an indigenous community in Mexico for refusing to recant their Christian faith. The 18 adults and 10 children from Tuxpan de Bolaños in Jalisco state were put in a pick-up truck and driven to nearby mountains where they were abandoned, according to International Christian Concern. Omar Rodriguez, regional president of the Baptist community, made arrangements for the expelled families to be housed in Guadalajara, the nearest large city.