Persecution Watchdog Questions Charges Against Cuban Pastor

A persecution watchdog group has called into question charges of "illicit economic activity and falsification of documents" brought against a pastor in Cuba.

Pastor Omar Gude Perez also stands accused of "counter-revolutionary conduct and attitudes" and could be handed a seven-year prison sentence should the state prosecutor's motion be granted.

His family, however, believes he is the victim of persecution, targeted for his leadership of the rapidly growing Christian movement Apostolic Reformation.

The pastor's wife says the family received threats and warnings from government officials to scale back their religious activity for months prior to his detention.

Perez has been in prison without trial for nearly a year after he was detained by Cuban authorities for "human trafficking." Though the charges were thrown out by a local court that said there was no evidence to support them, the case has since been referred to Havana and his family was informed last week of the latest charges.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization based in the United Kingdom, reports of religious liberty violations have been on the rise since Cuban president Raul Castro came to power early last year.

"The imprisonment of Pastor Gude Perez is a clear case of religious persecution and is part of a larger crackdown on religious groups in Cuba," said the Rev. Stuart Windsor, national director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

"We call on the Cuban authorities to release him immediately and, in line with the protections laid out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed last year, to guarantee the right to religious freedom for all groups," Windsor added.

According to CSW, another pastor and denominational leader, the Rev. Roberto Rodriguez, is also facing criminal charges. The persecution watchdog group believes the charges are connected to his denomination's withdrawal last autumn from the Cuban Council of Churches, an organization some observers say is regime administered or controlled.