Christian jailed for refusing to renounce his faith in Chiapas, Mexico

Iglesia de San Juan Chamula, Chiapas | Wikimedia Commons/Stefanni Jacqueline

A Christian in the state of Chiapas, Mexico was jailed and told to leave town after he refused to deny his faith and contribute to Traditionalist Catholic festivals.

Juan Gabriel Lopez Perez, 28, was jailed for three days on Jan. 7 and was warned by officials in Rancheria El Encanto, Municipality of Las Margaritas that he would not be released unless he sold his house and leave the area within 20 days, Morning Star News reported.

The authorities, who practice the Traditionalist Catholic blend of indigenous pagan and Roman Catholic rituals, gave Lopez the option of paying a fine amounting to 5,000 pesos ($240) or face 72 hours in jail. He was sent to jail after he refused to sign a document denying his evangelical faith and agreeing to contribute to the Traditionalist Catholic festivals.

When Lopez fell ill and was temporarily released for treatment, his wife served time in jail in his place, according to the Coordination of Christian Organizations (COC).

"On Jan. 9, the health condition of the prisoner were getting worse from the climatic conditions, so that in spite of requests for medical attention, it was not possible until night, when it was proposed that another person go to jail in his place, as a doctor had diagnosed the onset of bronchitis," the COC said in a statement. "His wife, Eduvina Lopez Santiz, went into the jail at that time," it added.

When Lopez returned to jail, he was sent to another complex where he is more insulated from the cold. His wife decided to stay with him despite having the opportunity to go home.

A government official, Jose Avenamar Peres Santiago, urged the family to pay the fine and leave the Pentecostal church, according to the COC. The official also offered them the funds to pay the fine, but they declined on grounds that accepting it would not guarantee that they will no longer be persecuted for belonging to the Pentecostal church.

The COC further noted that Lopez's incarceration came after area Christians filed a complaint against the authorities in December for cutting off their water supply and suspending government benefits and medical services. Their children were also reportedly denied the right to remain in school.

"The lack of attention, and the reluctance of the sub-secretary of Religious Affairs and local authorities to address this problem, resulted in the illegal deprivation of the designated people," the COC said, noting that Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco Coello and his officials had been informed on Dec. 14 about the situation of Christians in Rancheria El Encanto.

Mexico is currently ranked on the Open Doors World Watch List as the 41st out of 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution.