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The Church in Cuba faces threat to religious freedom

29 January 2016


Street scene: a child dressed as the former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, in an American classic car participates in a tribute marking the anniversary of the original street party that greeted Castro and his rebel army, in Regla, Cuba, earlier this month. Castro and his rebels arrived in Havana on 8 January, 1959, after toppling Fulgencio Batista

Street scene: a child dressed as the former President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, in an American classic car participates in a tribute marking the an...

THE Church in Cuba is facing report, published by the religious freedom charity, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), suggests.

The report says that the tactics used by the Cuban government against churches are both brutal and sophisticated. In 2015, 2000 Assemblies of God churches were declared illegal, and 15 Methodist churches were confiscated. Clergy have been arrested and imprisoned, and hundreds of women worshippers were prevented from attending services. One hundred churches have been earmarked for demolition — the first two demolitions were carried out two weeks ago.

The charity has counted 2300 separate violations of religious freedom in the past year, a figure that had “skyrocketed” from the recorded figure of 220 violations in 2014.

The report said: “Week after week, state security agents physically and violently dragged scores of women away from Sunday morning services. Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services.

“The government continued to employ a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention to target those it views as political dissidents. This tactic is also applied to religious leaders who are viewed as problematic, for whatever reason, by the authorities. . . For the first time in four years, a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in prison, for holding unauthorised religious services.”

Church communities have in some cases managed to overturn threatened closure and demolition through peaceful protest. One Assemblies of God congregation held a sit-in at a church threatened with demolition, and a Baptist church fought its appropriation by the State, sending a petition to the government, and another petition to the Cuban embassy in London, which resulted in a change of mind by the government.

Religious leaders in the country blame the crackdown on the Office of Religious Affairs, an arm of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

The chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said: “CSW doesn’t use the word ‘unprecedented’ lightly to refer to violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba in 2015. Following an upward trend in violations in recent years, 2015 witnessed a spike as the authorities deployed ever more public and brutal tactics to target churches across the denominational spectrum, regardless of their legal status. It is clear that despite promises of reform, the government is determined to maintain a tight grip on civil society, including churches.”

Pope Francis visited Cuba last year (News, 25 September 2015), and called for the Church in Cuba to have “the freedom and the means” to pursue its mission.

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