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Published On: Sat, Sep 6th, 2014

Cuba criticized for oppressing Christians, freedom of religion

Cuba is drawing ire from religious freedom watchdogs as the communist regime is oppressing Christian institutions and reports are escalating human rights violations over the past few months.

Raul Castro the reason for increased persecution in Cuba? photo/Agência Brasil

Raul Castro the reason for increased persecution in Cuba? photo/Agência Brasil

According to a new report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide this week, from January to mid-July of 2014, there were “170 religious freedom violations” including government authorities beating pastors and lay workers, dragging politically dissident women away from Sunday services, and enforcing arbitrary detentions, church closures, and demolitions.

The CSW report contrasts this with the total 180 incidents documented for the entire 2013 calendar year.

“It does seem like the government is paying more attention to the churches and making much of a concerted effort to control religious expression in Cuba,” Todd Nettleton, with Voice of the Martyrs said.

Nettleton suggested President Raul Castro could be more hostile to Christianity than his brother, or more aware of it. The government might also be looking at the church and sensing a need to assert control.

While the official stance from the Cuba government is that the “The State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious liberty” but these freedoms are ignored if officials feel the behavior conflicts with communism.
Article 62 of the Cuban constitution declares: “No recognized liberty may be exercised against the existence and aims of the socialist State and the nation’s determination to build socialism and communism.”
The Cuban Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) has authority over all religious groups in Cuba and it has a “consistently antagonistic relationship” with many of those groups, CSW notes in its report. Roughly 56 percent of Cubans identify as Christian, according to Operation World.
CSW said most of the cases of women being detained and forced to miss church were Roman Catholics and Ladies in White, a political dissident group made up of women related to political prisoners.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “It is distressing to see such a significant and sustained increase in reported violations of religious freedom in Cuba, even as the government claims to be committed to reforms in this area and others. We are deeply saddened that Reverend Carbonell, who dedicated so much of his life to ministry inside Cuba, was pushed by government harassment to the point of going into exile. It is disturbing to see some groups outside Cuba interpret concessions or privileges extended to a few religious groups as an overall improvement in religious freedom, even as other groups report continued and worsening persecution, resulting in religious inequality. As long as the Cuban government refuses to allow all religious organisations to function legally, to register all places of worship, including house churches, and to remove authority over all religious activity from the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, whose decisions are issued arbitrarily and cannot be appealed, there can be no religious freedom in Cuba. We call on the United States, on the European Union and other members of the international community, to hold the Cuban government to account and to set measurable benchmarks, including the three mentioned above, in order to judge more accurately any improvement in religious freedom in Cuba.”

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