Cuba Releases Religious Freedom Advocate Detained by Authorities After Helping Christian Churches

Cuba's communist government on Friday released a well-known religious freedom advocate, Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso, who had been held without charge.

Authorities arrested Alonso, a regional coordinator for the Patmos Institute, an independent civil society organization that promotes inter-religious dialogue and religious freedom for all, on Wednesday while he was returning home to Villa Clara from the town of Caibarién, where he had gone to lead meetings with human rights defenders, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, USA.

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Alonso had been held without charge in the Provincial Unit for Investigations in the city of Santa Clara. The meeting he led was about violations of freedom of religion or belief affecting Apostolic Movement churches in central and eastern Cuba.

"We were very happy to learn of the release of Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso without charge today," Anna-Lee Stangl, Americas Team Leader at CSW, said in a statement. "We continue to be concerned by the fact that he was arrested and detained for almost two days without any charge. We call on the Cuban government to cease its targeting and harassment of human rights defenders, including those working on freedom of religion or belief."

Cuba has been governed by a one-party state since authoritarian Marxist leader Fidel Castro, who died in November 2016, overthrew the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. While the communist regime showed some signs of economic and political reforms after Castro allowed his brother, Raul Castro, to succeed as president in 2008, repression continues.

According to Open Doors USA, about 57 percent of Cubans are Christian and they face constant government surveillance and infiltration. However, the Church continues to grow in the island country. In 2014, Cuba's government announced the approval of a permit for the building of a Catholic church in Santiago de Cuba, the island's second largest city, for the first time in the nation since the 1959 Revolution.

However, a report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide released earlier this year said there were as many as 325 religious freedom violations in the island nation in 2017.

Although the 325 figure is lower than the number of religious freedom violations that CSW reported in 2015 and 2016, it still continues an increasing trend in violations since 2011, the organization reported.

"CSW is deeply concerned by the growing number and severity of [religious freedom] violations reported by a wide variety of denominations and religious groups, which seem to show that the government is attempting to tighten its control over the activities and membership of religious groups," the report read. "Many of the documented violations were in line with the types of violations seen in previous years — for example the use of temporary arbitrary detention, harassment of church leaders, and attacks on property rights."

"It appears, however, that the government is now also diversifying its tactics by threatening activists and religious leaders with trumped up criminal charges, arbitrarily preventing them from traveling out of the country and targeting their children," it continued. "It is essential that the European Union, the United States, and other governments in dialogue with Cuba use their positions to press for improvements to religious freedom and the general human rights situation in the country."

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