Rights Group: Cuban Church Leader Arrested on 'False' Charges

A Christian human rights group is calling on Cuban authorities to release a respected church leader who was unexpectedly arrested this week and taken to a town in Central Cuba, where he is expected to stand trial.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is also calling on authorities to drop all charges against the Rev. Roberto Rodriguez, including the charges of "offensive behavior" and "threats."

The U.K.-based group said it believes the charges against the church leader are "false" based upon the testimonies of those close to him.

According to reports, Rodriguez, who is in his late 60s and in poor health, became a government target after the organization he led publicly withdrew from a government-sanctioned religious umbrella group in the second half of 2008.

It was later that year that the first charges were brought against Rodriguez, and though he was given three trial dates over the course of 2009, no trial ever took place. Over the last 21 months, Rodriguez has been under house arrest.

"The treatment of Reverend Rodriguez and his family over the past 21 months has been disgraceful," remarked CSW National Director Stuart Windsor, whose organization specializes in religious freedom.

"While some heralded the release of some Cuban prisoners of conscience this summer as an improvement in the human rights situation, the arrest of Reverend Rodriguez this week demonstrates that the Cuban government is not interested in real human rights reform," the human rights leader added.

According to Rodriguez's family, state security officials arrived at their home without warning on Monday and forced the church leader to go with them. The arrest was so sudden that Rodriguez was reportedly unable to take important medication with him.

It is feared that without the medication, the pastor's health will continue to deteriorate.

"The European Union will be looking at the human rights situation and reviewing its Common Position on Cuba this month," noted Windsor. "We call on the EU to make urgent representations on behalf of Reverend Rodriguez to the Cuban government."

Rodriguez is expected to be put on trial in the town of Placetas sometime over the next few days, based upon his family's understanding.

Prosecutors are reportedly asking that Rodriguez be given a one-year prison sentence.