By BosNewsLife Americas Service
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO (BosNewsLife)-- Rights activists have urged Mexico's government to prosecute local officials responsible for "the unjust imprisonment" and "torture" of four evangelical Christians from November 5-8 in the western state of Oaxaca.
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, who demanded the destruction of the church building a day earlier.
The four men were freed three days later after government officials, accompanied by state police, travelled to the municipality to intervene, Christians said.
Photos of the men who were admitted to the local hospital, seen by BosNewsLife, showed signs that they had been "severely beaten," according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has investigated the case.
“It is imperative that the Mexican government take swift legal action against those responsible for this horrific crime," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
"If the state government is unable or unwilling to uphold the law, the federal government must intervene," he told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Threats against the evangelical Christians were first reported in May when church members publicly called for state government intervention following reported threats from the municipal president, Pedro Cruz González.
Church members claimed Cruz González had threatened "to burn them and throw their bodies into a canyon if they did not renounce their faith."
When government officials failed to respond, the situation escalated, Christians said.
In July, a member of the church, Vicente Aragon Hernandez, was reportedly detained on orders of Cruz Gonzalez.
Municipal leaders reportedly indicated that his imprisonment was a punishment for speaking out publicly about the situation in San Juan Ozolotepec."
Cruz Gonzalez also made a public order to "demolish the temple, lynch, imprison and torture" the members of the Pentecostal church, according to activists.
The National Commission for Human Rights has opened a complaint into the San Juan Ozolotepec case saying "cases of religious intolerance are on the rise in Mexico, particularly in rural areas and regions with a significant indigenous population," CSW added.
Local religious expert Jorge Lee Galindo reportedly said that incidents of religious intolerance continue in several areas of Mexico, partly because of a culture of impunity.
"The government, on the occasions when it decides to act, often intervenes only to calm the situation, but rarely takes legal action against those responsible for these violations," he said.
"Local authorities see that there are no real consequences for acts of violence and exclusion targeting religious minorities...These cases escalate and spread."
CSW's Thomas told BosNewsLife that authorities violate the constitution.
"Freedom of religion is guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution and enshrined in international law to which Mexico is party," Thomas explained.
"It is past time for all of Mexico’s citizens to enjoy the fundamental right to choose and practice their own faith."