Pastors in Cuba monitored, threatened by Communist officials despite requests for greater protections: watchdog

People walk near the Church of Our Virgin of Charity in Havana, Cuba, March 14, 2012.
People walk near the Church of Our Virgin of Charity in Havana, Cuba, March 14, 2012. | (Photo: Reuters/Desmond Boylan)

Church officials in Cuba have asked for greater protections for their denominations but instead pastors are being monitored and threatened as believers face increased incidents of harassment by Communist officials, a persecution watchdog group reports.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide released its findings in a report on Thursday, noting that freedom of religion or belief continues to be violated in the country.

Both Protestant and Roman Catholic institutions have called for greater protections, but that has led to increased harassment of religious leaders, CSW has warned.

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"Often this takes subtler, hard to document forms, and is focused on attempting to create divisions between and within religious groups," the watchdog explained in its summary.

"Religious leaders who have taken on a leadership role in the campaign, both at the local and national levels, have reported that pressure on them remains high; over the past year many have chosen to flee the country and to seek refuge abroad," it added.

"Leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches, both those belonging to and outside of the Cuban Council of Churches, report frequent visits from and meetings with state security agents and Cuban Communist Party officials. These visits and meetings seem to be intended to intimidate the religious leaders and make them aware that they are under close surveillance."

The report includes several examples of the harassment churches are facing. It also noted that a number of church leaders from various denominations have reported on frequent visits from state security or Communist Party agents.

“Some have reported warnings from the agents and officials that the education of their children, or their own employment, could be threatened if the house church leaders continue with their activities,” the report says.

“In August a government official paid a number of visits to house churches linked to one pastor in central Cuba. The officials threatened the owners of the homes and pressured them to stop allowing their homes to be used for religious activity. Officials threatened one owner, an elderly woman, with criminal charges if more than 10 people met in her home at any one time.”

CSW makes several recommendations to world leaders, including the United Nations and the United States government, about how to address this issue.

"The State Department should continue to closely monitor FORB in Cuba and consider adding the country to the Special Watch List," it asked of the U.S. government.

"The State Department should ensure that all FORB reporting fully reflects the views of marginalized churches and faith leaders, rather than positions of state officials and offices."

Michael Mutzner, the permanent representative to the U.N. in Geneva of the World Evangelical Alliance, wrote in an op-ed for The Christian Post earlier this year that evangelicals in Cuba are often controlled and repressed, but are still growing.

Mutzner noted that evangelicals make up about 10 percent of the Cuban population, with most churches facing some forms of restrictions.

“Churches established after 1959 in Cuba face the most difficult conditions, because they are considered illegal. They represent 12 percent of Cuban evangelicals. Some are in the country since over 30 years but are still unable to register with the ministry of justice of Cuba,” he told CP about churches in the most difficult situations.

“Their meeting locations can be destroyed, and their leaders arrested. Thus, dozens of pastors are regularly harassed and arrested. Some have been unjustly sentenced in court, such as pastor Núñez Velázquez who was sentenced on October 2016 to one-year house arrest.”

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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