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Cuban church leaders call for international response to persecution

Country/Region: Cuba

Cuban church leaders have called on the US government to put their country on its list of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom amid a sharp increase in the number of incidents.

US_Capitol_building_2_4X3.jpg
Cuban church leaders addressed
members of the US Congress
Kevin McCoy / CC BY-SA 2.0

The group addressed the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus and commissioners from the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, which each year recommends the designation of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). They shared personal experiences of state-sponsored persecution and described how the Cuban government attempts to control religious groups.

The call comes as figures compiled by Christian Solidarity Worldwide show a sharp rise in the number of incidents of religious freedom violation in Cuba. There were over 40 recorded between 1 January and 1 May, 2012, many of which involved multiple victims, compared with 28 in the whole of 2011.

One of the church leaders, the Rev. Carlos Lamelas, a former prisoner of conscience who left Cuba for the US in 2011 following 20 years of persecution and attacks, said:

My case is far from being an isolated case and it is even less so the worst of the repression suffered by Christian ministries in Cuba… I urge whoever can do so, to judge the Castro government as violators of the most basic human rights. They extend their arms, like an octopus, to repress not only Cuban civil society but also all believers, including church hierarchies.

Among the incidents of religious freedom violations recorded this year were a number of physical attacks on pastors, which have various similar features. They were all church leaders in smaller denominations or independent churches, therefore lacking the support of a larger network; they all work in relatively isolated areas where email access is very limited; and they had all challenged the local authorities prior to the attack.

One of them, Pastor Reutilio Columbie, suffered brain damage in a brutal assault. 

Local security agents are believed to be behind the beatings; no one has been held to account for any of them.

Other incidents include people being prevented from attending church services and churches being threatened with closure for resisting government interference. More and more church leaders are standing up to this pressure, and this is likely to be the reason for the intensifying opposition. 

Individuals have also been targeted. A persecuted pastor, Omar Gude Perez, has been refused a permit to leave the country despite being offered asylum in the USA. Cuba is keen to promote itself internationally as a respecter of religious freedom, and it is thought that the government is concerned that Pastor Perez will shatter this illusion by highlighting the state-sponsored persecution of the network of churches that he leads. 

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