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Mexico: Commission calls for update three months after Pastor kidnapping

Pastor Aarón Méndez Ruiz and Alfredo Castillo de Luna were forcibly taken from a migrant shelter in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo on 3rd August, after Pastor Méndez Ruiz blocked the kidnapping of a group of Cuban asylum seekers by an organised crime ring.

Four days before the men's disappearance, 500 asylum seekers arrived at the Casa del Migrante AMAR migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo.

A number of Cuban migrants were kidnapped at the AMAR shelter earlier in the year which resulted in victims experiencing severe physical mistreatment, including torture, during their captivity before being freed.

Those seeking asylum from Cuba are particularly at risk by criminal groups due to the belief that most have family members in the US with access to funds to pay ransom.

Following Méndez Ruiz and Castillo de Luna's disappearance, family and friends have received no ransom demand or any further communication in relation to the two men, according to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

On 4th October the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) issued a call to the Mexican government to detail what measures it has taken "to determine the whereabouts or destination" of the men, to protect the families of the victims and report the progress of any investigations.

Catholic and Protestant church leaders have increasingly become the target of extortion or violence by criminal groups in Mexico, due to their views and influence.

On 24th October Father Alberto Ruiz Pérez, a priest who runs a migrant shelter in the Mexican state of Jalisco, was assaulted, extorted and threatened at gunpoint for his work defending the rights of migrants.

According to the CIDH report, a warning attributed to the Northeast Cartel circulated on social media in the weeks following the two men's disappearance: "Operation CATAS, sending priests to hell! Every immigrant will pay us here!!! It doesn't matter if they come from or hide in a church. Priests, pastors. [non-Catholic] Priests. Bishops. You are warned."

CSW's Joint Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: "Pastor Aaron Mendez Ruiz and Alfredo Castillo de Luna have now been in the hands of violent criminal groups for 93 days and we are deeply concerned for their wellbeing. We welcome calls made by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and continue to call on the government of Mexico to do everything in its power to ensure their return.

"We also call on the Mexican government to ensure that local authorities are sufficiently equipped to protect human rights defenders, including religious leaders, particularly in areas where there are high numbers of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers."

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