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22 November 2012

Religious Liberty in Cuba

Religious Liberty in Cuba

Of the 11.3 million people in Cuba's communist state 54 per cent are Christian, yet religious groups report widespread surveillance and infiltration by state agents. In 1992 hopes were raised when Cuba was declared a 'secular state' rather than 'atheist', promising freedom of religion. Reality, however, has not matched the rhetoric, and cases of repression, abuse and wrongful imprisonment continue. Whilst church demolitions are less common, many say that persecution is not decreasing, simply more subtle. In the words of a Cuban pastor "Don't be fooled by appearances. Many…won't speak out about this because of fear. If they speak out in Cuba, there will be consequences."

Tight restrictions are faced by churches outside of the government-sanctioned Council of Cuban Churches. They are usually barred from extending or renovating buildings, and permission to build new church buildings is limited. The communist Religious Affairs Office regulates religious activity and institutions, and has antagonistic relationships with religious leaders. From 2005 all house churches were required to register with the authorities, although most have not done so. Access to Bibles is also limited, with no Christian bookstore on the island for over half a century, and only 10 per cent of churches (those that collaborate with the government) being allowed to import Bibles.

Cuban Christians face limited opportunities and rights, often being sacked or prevented from applying for high status jobs. Children are required to renounce Christ and embrace communism in school, and Christian children are often prevented from graduating high school or entering university. 

Those linked to human rights or pro-democracy activities are often forcibly prevented from attending church, and church leaders who allow them to take part are frequently targeted by the government. Baptist leader Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, for example, was arrested and seriously beaten on 13 October 2012 for taking a physically abused human rights defender for medical treatment. As Alliance members Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported, Pastor Barroso said following his release "the gospel I preach prevents me to ignore these realities although the government uses all types of blackmails and pressures so pastors [have to] turn a blind eye to events like these."

Pastor Omar Gude Pérez is a leader in the Apostolic Movement, and has faced over four years of harassment and threats against him and his family. Following fabricated charges of 'falsification of public documents' and 'illegal economic activity', Pastor Pérez served three years of a six-and-a-half year prison sentence. He was released on conditional liberty earlier this year, but prohibited from preaching or travelling outside his city of Camaguey, and his children have been unable to attend school. 

In an emotive open letter Pastor Perez said: "I've been a victim of torture, fraudulent and deceitful judicial processes, violence, abuse of power, intimidation, harassment and more…. My family and I have suffered all this simply because of our ideals of freedom of conscience and expression, as we preach the Word of God in our nation."

In July 2012 the USA offered his family a visa to go to America, but the Cuban authorities have denied the Pastor an exit visa. His wife Kenia therefore travelled to the USA at the start of this month to appeal to Washington for justice and freedom.

CSW's Special Ambassador Stuart Windsor said, "We are deeply concerned at the news that Cuban officials have once again declined to issue the Gude (Pérez) family an exit visa.  News of increased pressure and threats against other church leaders is also extremely worrying. CSW calls on Cuba once again, to uphold its commitments as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to cease harassment of religious leaders.  We hope that the government will also honour its promise to the Gude family to allow them to leave the country and begin a new life in the United States without any further delay."

Respond 

Please pray:

  • For Pastor Pérez and his family, that they would know God's strength and peace.
  • For the Cuban Government officials, that their hearts would be softened to grant an exit visa allowing the family to leave the country, and end the repression of religious groups.
  • For the many, many others in Cuba who are suffering persecution because of their faith.

You can also:

  • Write letters to encourage persecuted Christians, including those in Cuba.
  • Give towards CSW's work supporting Cuban Christians.
  • Join CSW's Cry Freedom campaign to call for change in Cuba, North Korea, Burma, China, Iran and Eritrea.
 
  Photo credit:Gabrielbu