Religious Freedom Violations Worsen Since Obama-Castro Deal

Thursday, June 11, 2015
From Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

The number of violations of freedom of religion or belief held steady, while the violations themselves grew in severity, in the first half of 2015. For the first time since 2011, to CSW’s knowledge, a church leader has been imprisoned; while the government also apparently modified their tactics to target the property of religious organisations as a means to control these groups. Foreign students involved in religious activities linked to unapproved groups were expelled and had their visas revoked. In line with previous years, scores of mostly women and some men were violently arrested and temporarily imprisoned to prevent them from attending Mass. This has occurred each Sunday since the beginning of the year.

CSW is deeply concerned by the continued imprisonment without charge of Reverend Jesús Noel Carballeda, who was arrested in early February. His wife believes that his continued leadership of an unregistered church and persistence in leading religious services, even after a previous imprisonment five years ago, angered the authorities and led to this second detention. On the previous occasion, Reverend Carballeda was imprisoned for four months after militant communist neighbors filed legal complaints about church services he held in his home in Marianao, Havana. Following his imprisonment he was put on probation and required to check in with the authorities on a regular basis. After his release Reverend Carballeda no longer held religious services in his home, as per the conditions of his release. However, he continued to lead his church, holding services in the countryside, in parks, in rented rooms and in other private homes. Inquiries to the Cuban authorities as to the reason for Reverend Carballeda’s imprisonment have been met with silence. He is being held in the Valle Grande prison in Antonio de los Baños, Havana Province.

New legislation, Legal Decree 322: the General Law on Housing, was announced on 5 September 2014 and came into force on 5 January 2015.1 The law is meant to regulate private properties, mostly homes, and enforce zoning laws. However, it has reportedly been used by government officials to claim the right to seize church properties and to force the churches into the role of paying tenant. Cuban lawyers have told CSW that although the law does not specifically mention religious groups, government officials have claimed it gives them the authority to expropriate property when they deem it ‘necessary.’ One legal expert linked to the Cuban Council of Churches and speaking anonymously told CSW that churches of all denominations and in multiple provinces are affected: “They are applying the law rigorously. In the case of the churches it is worse. They propose to convert the church into a tenant. This has consequences. For example, the ‘new owner’ is able to decide what the church can or cannot do in this place. That is to say they lose autonomy. They cannot accept this. The situation is complicated.”

Read the full report here.