A Baptist woman is in hospital in critical condition with serious internal injuries after been tied to a tree and severely beaten by the leaders of her village in Hidalgo State, Mexico on 21 December.
The pastor of the woman’s church was detained for two hours and threatened by the same authorities who have also declared that they will not allow the body of the woman to be buried in the village if she does not recover from her injuries. As the woman is currently in intensive care, she is not permitted to receive visits from other villagers, however the pastor was also prohibited from visiting the woman in her home before she was admitted to hospital. No arrests have been made despite complaints having been filed with the Hidalgo State Human Rights Commission and the Hidalgo State Prosecutor's Office.
Maria Concepcion Hernández Hernández, a member of the Great Commission Baptist Church in the community of Rancho Nuevo, Huejutla de los Reyes Municipality, was attacked on the morning of Wednesday 21 December after she visited a plot of land that she owns in response to a request from a neighbour who had asked her to remove two trees. Since 2015, the local authorities have prohibited members of the religious minority from accessing or using their land for cultivating crops.
Local leaders in Rancho Nuevo, including Mr Benito Rocha, community leader Fermín Hernández Hernández, delegate Octaviano Gutierrez Hernández, Mr Margarito Gutierrez Hernández, Mr Francisco Wenses, and catechist Julio Hernández Hernández, who all belong to the Roman Catholic religious majority in the village, participated in the attack after being informed of her presence. A source told CSW that unusually, and immediately before the attack on the Mrs. Hernández Hernández, the bells of the local Roman Catholic church were ringing.
When Pastor Rogelio Hernández Baltazar attempted to intervene to ask the authorities to stop the attack he was also physically assaulted and detained for two hours. Local leaders demanded that he hand over the deeds to ten plots of land that belong to members of the Baptist church. When the pastor refused to do so, the authorities threatened to take the documents by force and to confiscate the properties.
Human rights violations linked to FoRB have been ongoing and severe in Rancho Nuevo since 2015. Local authorities have repeatedly attempted to force members of the religious minority to participate in Roman Catholic religious festivals, including through financial donations, lighting candles and actively participating in acts of worship. Members of the religious minority community have been arbitrarily detained, beaten, barred from accessing medical care, sacked from their jobs, blocked from burying their dead, and had their lands arbitrarily confiscated. Since 2018, religious minority children have been barred from attending the local school.
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘The life of a woman hangs in the balance and a community is living in fear because, despite ample evidence of serious violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Rancho Nuevo for more than seven years, the Mexican authorities have failed to intervene. Instead, Hidalgo State government officials, under the previous governor, have for years publicly denied the existence of cases of religious intolerance in the state. We hold these authorities, alongside those directly involved in the attack, responsible for the events of 21 December. We call on Governor Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar to ensure that his administration takes swift action to bring to justice those responsible for this brutal attack and the ongoing threats against members of the religious minority in Rancho Nuevo. We urge Governor Menchaca Salazar to work closely with the state human rights commission and federal religious affairs officials to put in place policies that recognize the existence of serious FoRB violations in Hidalgo and develop effective and timely ways to address them in accordance with Mexico’s legal protections for human rights.’
Notes to Editors:
- After the attack, Mrs Hernández Hernández personally filed the complaints, with help from the pastor, at the human rights commission and prosecutor’s office before returning home. She later began to vomit blood and was then hospitalised where she remains in critical condition.
- Rancho Nuevo is an indigenous Nahuatl speaking community that is governed under the Law of Uses and Customs. The Mexican constitution guarantees FoRB and other human rights to all citizens. However, in practice FoRB violations are common among indigenous communities governed under the Law of Uses and Customs. This law protects the right of indigenous communities to maintain their cultural and traditional methods of local governance with the caveat that it must be applied in line with human rights guarantees in the Mexican constitution and in the international conventions to which Mexico is party. However, the Mexican government on both the federal and state levels does little to ensure that these protections are upheld. As a result, in many communities, a religious majority attempts to enforce religious uniformity with consequences ranging in severity for members of minorities who wish to practice a religion or belief of their choosing.
- Women from Rancho Nuevo participated in CSW research that was used for Let Her Be Heard, a groundbreaking report on how indigenous women in Mexico experience FoRB violations, published in April 2022.
- Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar took office in September 2022. Under the previous, six-year term of the previous governor of Hidalgo, Omar Fayad, government officials repeatedly and publicly denied the existence of any cases of religious intolerance in the state. CSW’s research has shown that it has one of the highest numbers of such cases in the country.