Report: Sharp Rise in Religious Liberty Violations in Cuba

Pressure on religious leaders in Cuba has increased significantly over the past year, according to a new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Comprehensive evidence within the document details a sharp rise in religious liberty violations in the country, especially against the independent churches, noted the human rights watchdog.

Independent church leaders from the fast growing Apostolic Movement have been particularly targeted for harassment, detentions and court summons by the government, according to the report.

Last week Pastor Mario Alvarez, the Havana-based leader of a church affiliated with Apostolic Movement, was informed by government officials that he would be evicted from his home.

Two other leaders from the Apostolic Movement are currently in prison. Alexi Perez, who oversees a group of around 100 church members at the Apostolic Evangelical Church in San Jose de las Lajas, has now been in prison for almost two months, while Pastor Omar Gude Perez was sentenced to six years in prison in July.

According to CSW, this follows the detention of at least 60 pastors and leaders linked to the Apostolic Movement in May and June.

CSW, a human rights organization which specializes in religious freedom around the world, has strongly condemned the treatment of independent church leaders.

"It is clear that the eviction of Pastor Alvarez is the latest in a long line of repressive actions taken by the Cuban Government against Christian leaders associated with the Apostolic Movement," said CSW's Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert.

"We strongly encourage the international community, in particular the European Union, to push the Cuban government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it signed in 2008 and to make it clear to Cuban officials that religious freedom must be protected for Cubans of all faiths."

The communist state of Cuba is officially an atheist state and is notorious for suppressing the work of Christian missionaries. It has many political and religious prisoners. Last year, USCIRF called on the U.S. government to specifically press Cuba "through all available diplomatic channels" to release all political prisoners, and lift repressive laws and restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief.

The fast-growing evangelical Christians account for about 5 percent of the estimated 11 million people in Cuba. There were only 1,100 churches and house churches in 1991 – the year when the Congressional Communist Party voted to change Cuba's constitutional status from atheist to secular state, according to WorldServe. Now, there are more than 16,000 house churches, said the ministry which has worked in Cuba for over a decade.

Cuba showed some signs of easing its policy toward religion when authorities from the Cuban Communist Party agreed to allow organized worship services inside prisons for Catholic or Protestant inmates, according to Jose Aurelio Paz, spokesman for the Protestant Cuban Church Council. Inmates were previously allowed to only worship individually.

Nevertheless, Cuba is ranked No. 33 in Open Doors' World Watch List, which annually names 50 of the worst persecutors of Christians.