Revictimization in the search for a solution to conflicts related to religious freedom

Uriel Badillo is a father of a family who has been affected by the lack of religious freedom in the community of Cuamontax in Huazalingo Municipality of Mexico’s Hidalgo State. His father Gilberto Badillo, a native of the community, converted to Christianity in 2009, and in 2010 he went public with his new faith before his community as he began to conduct Bible studies and invite people to his house.

The community prohibited these activities and placed a banner at the entrance to the village that explicitly said, ‘No entry to Evangelicals’, which remained until 2021. I had the opportunity to see it on a visit to the state of Hidalgo in 2020.

The majority religion in Cuamontax is Roman Catholic; they hold parties and celebrations for various saints during the year but the most important party in the area that lasts a week is “Xantolo”[1] (Day of the Dead) and all members of the community are required to participate physically and financially.

In 2018 Uriel Badillo and his family agreed to participate in the support and development of community activities, called “tequio”[2], with the exception of the festival for Xantolo, which takes place from 30 October to 2 November every year and sees people making offerings and holding festivals in memory of and for the deceased.

Mr Badillo and his family’s refusal to participate in the Xantolo festivities on account of their religious beliefs prompted the community to threaten them with expulsion and with being cut off from essential services. This threat was fulfilled in October 2019 when community leaders destroyed the antenna of a family internet business, gave them a week to leave, and later surrounded their family home with barbed wire and barred them from re-entering the community.

In 2020, members of the community harvested crops on land (known as ejidal land)[3] belonging to Mr Badillo and his family without their authorization. Since 2019 the family have not been allowed to carry out any administrative processes on communal property as the ejidal commissioner who oversees the management of the land has repeatedly refused to grant them permission.

By denying the family access to the land, while also requiring them to sign a document every year to verify that they are still members of the community, it is believed that the community leadership is attempting to build a case that the family are not interested in the land which in turn would justify dividing the property among other members of the community in accordance with Article 48 of the agrarian law, which permits the reassignment of land after five years of ‘disinterest’.

This, however, has not been the most serious problem facing Mr Badillo and his family since their expulsion in 2019; that same year Uriel and his father began a legal and bureaucratic process which would become a second ordeal for them. The Penal and Administrative Code of the State of Hidalgo recognizes the crimes of violence, abuse of authority, dispossession and discrimination – all of which are acknowledged to have taken place in this case among others – but since the complaint was filed, the corresponding authorities have not done anything about it. The state human rights office has issued various recommendations to the state government and the prosecutor’s office based in the municipal seat of Huejutla de Reyes, which is in charge of the matter, but there has been no progress.

As a result, since 2019, Uriel Badillo and his father Gilberto Badillo have been forced to go back and forth to the prosecutor’s office which is based in the city of Huejutla de Reyes, and since 2020 to the municipal office of Huazalingo and to the city of Pachuca to the Agrarian Registry office in, to seek to defend the rights that they should be afforded by law. The journey takes approximately six hours each way.

The lack of attention by the authorities to their situation and, when they do respond, the authorities’ recommendation that to stop having problems the Badillos should abandon their religious beliefs and align themselves with the requests of the community regarding cooperation and participation in Roman Catholic festivals, despite the gravity of the acts of illegality that they have suffered and continue to experience, constitutes a barrier that exacerbates the injustice that forces them to stay in a state of exile from their community.

This is just one of the many cases that CSW has documented in the state of Hidalgo. Another is the case of Rancho Nuevo, where since 2015, Protestant Christians have suffered the suspension of services, restrictions on access to government programs and abuse of authority. In December 2022, a woman was violently attacked by community leaders which resulted in her being placed in intensive care for more than two weeks; the reason was that she belonged to a religious minority within her community. Although she is now recovering, and despite the fact that she has filed the corresponding complaints, those responsible remain unpunished. This represents yet another example of the lack of attention and re-victimization suffered by those who belong to a religious minority and who live in the state of Hidalgo.

We must do our part as a society and as representatives of the various spheres that make up our communities, raising our voices for those who are in such a profound condition of vulnerability and protecting the right to freedom of religion and belief upheld within the Mexican Constitution and the international treaties and covenants to which the country is a party. If we do not do so, we will only open a path in which the next on the list of injustice will be ourselves.

Pablo Vargas, Mexico Director, Impulso 18 A.C.

[1] Xantolo or celebration of the day of the dead, is a party of pre-Hispanic origin in honor of deceased people, performed by the Teenek and Nahuatl in the Huasteca, accompanied by dances, songs and typical dishes. It is characterized by devotion and waiting for the arrival of relatives and friends who have already passed away.

[2] Tequio derives from the Nahuatl word “tequitl”, which means work or tribute, and this refers to a pre-Hispanic custom that consisted of the cooperation in kind and work of the members of a region to build, repair and preserve their surroundings.

[3]    Ejido lands are lands that were granted by the state to carry out agricultural or livestock activities. Therefore, this extension of land is owned by the municipality where it is located and is administered by three legal bodies: the Ejidal Assembly, the Ejidal Commissioner, and the Oversight Council.

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