Traditional herbal medicine is still the most accessible form of health care in many towns and villages in Mexico, but for some indigenous Mixe healers in Oaxaca the practice earned them accusations of witchcraft.
There are varying accounts of what actually took place in Santiago Malacatepec in the municipality of San Juan Mazatlán, but somewhere between five and eight women were incarcerated two weeks ago for as long as 10 days after some of their neighbors accused them of practicing witchcraft.
The women were harassed and then jailed after residents reported them to local authorities in the town, which is governed by ancestral indigenous customs and traditions, a form of government known as usos y costumbres.
The women were also fined between 5,000 and 10,000 pesos (US $270 to 540) and expelled from the community.
People from neighboring towns denounced the abuses to which the women were subjected but no one wished to intervene for fear of being jailed themselves.
The captives were finally released on the weekend after the intervention by the state Attorney General’s office and the human rights ombudsman of Oaxaca.
Attorney General Rubén Vasconcelos Méndez said his office has charged the municipality with aggravated assault, attempted murder, abuse of authority and unlawful deprivation of liberty.
The ombudsman has requested special protection for the women by the state.
Arturo Peimbert Calvo has also started a human rights investigation.
“We can see a clear violation against human rights at this moment by state and community authorities,” he said.