Threats to religious freedom in Cuba
Threats to religious freedom in Cuba
Published 04 April 2013 | ASSIST News Service
Events in the first quarter of 2013 point to an ongoing trend of a
broader political crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba, while reported
violations tripled in 2012.
That's according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW) latest report
on religious freedom in Cuba.
Religious freedom violations reported to CSW in 2012, many involving
dozens of people at a time, rose to 120 compared to 40 in 2011.
CSW said in a news release that those numbers do not include the
hundreds of devout Catholics who were arrested, sometimes with force,
and arbitrarily imprisoned during the week of the Pope's visit, in order
to prevent them from attending any of the scheduled masses or other events.
After a period in which it appeared that the government was moving
towards more subtle and refined pressure on church leaders, CSW said
2012 saw a return of the use of more brutal and public tactics.
For the first time in years, CSW received multiple reports of violent
beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country.
In one particularly troubling case, CSW reported, Pastor Reutilio
Columbie of the Shalom Christian Center, a Pentecostal church in Moa,
Holguín Province, was left with permanent brain damage.
That was following a violent attack as he traveled from his home to the
provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist
Party officials, who had illegally confiscated a vehicle owned by and
licensed to the church.
The government has in general moved away from issuing lengthy prison
sentences to political dissidents. CSW said it now uses a strategy of
frequent, temporary arbitrary detention without charge; a tactic
increasingly used against religious leaders and Christians who are
prevented from attending Sunday morning services.
CSW said there were also increased reports of threats of forced closure
and demolition of church buildings, as well as confiscation of property.
They were often ordered by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm
of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, and which has
authority over all religious groups and associations.
Discrimination against Christians continues to be a problem, and
children are particularly vulnerable.
CSW said earlier this month a primary school-aged girl who attends a
Baptist church in Ciego de Avila province was banned from school and
threatened with expulsion for refusing to proclaim that "Comandante Hugo
Chávez was more important than Jesus Christ" during mandatory memorial
activities organized in the wake of President Chávez' death.
CSW has also received reports that children of church leaders,
particularly outside Havana, are frequently singled out for harassment
and ridicule because of their faith by teachers and school administrators.
CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said in the news release,
"Recent developments led many to hope for a more positive era for
religious freedom in Cuba. However, the reality on the ground for church
leaders representing the full spectrum of denominations suggests that
the reforms and privileges accorded to a few religious groups have been
Johnston continued, "The government's stance towards religious groups,
epitomized by the actions of the ORA, suggests that religious
organisations, and in particular their leaders, are still considered
potentially dangerous and there are concerted efforts to exert as much
control as possible over their activities. We urge the Cuban government,
as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, to guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief for all
of its citizens."