Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Religious freedom worsening in Cuba - 'There is a crackdown happening'

Religious freedom worsening in Cuba: 'There is a crackdown happening'
Lucinda Borkett-Jones 26 January 2015

Pastor Esmir Torreblanco stands among the ruins of his home in Santiago
de Cuba where he led Establishing the Kingdom of God Church
Violations of religious freedom are increasing in Cuba, according to a
new report released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today.

The number of recorded violations has risen year on year. There were 220
recorded incidences in 2014, up from 180 the previous year, 120 in 2012,
and 40 in 2011.

The incidences have also become more violent, with cases of Protestant
pastors being arbitrarily detained or beaten and churches being demolished.

But the increase in the figures is partly owed to more information being
reported, despite government restrictions on information.

"There is a crackdown happening... but that's come simultaneously with
more people speaking out and being ready to put their work and their
situation on the line to make sure information gets out," CSW's Cuba
advocate told Christian Today. "I think that then provokes a more
intense crackdown, so it's a circular cycle.

"Everything's monitored, so the Cuban government has complete control
over telephone lines and internet connection. Any pastor or church
official who tries to send information out is doing that knowing that
what they are doing, the government's going to know about and that comes
with repercussions."

Those who have reported violations have been harassed and some have been
threatened with arrest.

Religious life in Cuba is regulated by the Communist Party's Office of
Religious Affairs (ORA), which has the power to recognise certain
religious groups and permit them to build new premises while denying others.

But even churches that are registered, legally operating church can face
intimidation. CSW's spokesperson said members of the congregation can be
threatened with losing their jobs, pastors' children are often singled
out at school, and the ORA can refuse to allow building repair work to
be done.

Unregistered churches can experience anything from the confiscation of
property to the demolition of the church building.

In July 2014 the ORA sanctioned the demolition of the Establishing the
Kingdom of God Church in Santiago de Cuba. The pastor and his family
were from their home, where the church met, early one morning and then
the building was reduced to rubble.

One Baptist leader, Rev Homero Carbonell, left the island last year
after 52 years of ministry and was granted asylum in the US on the basis
of harassment from the ORA.

However, the authorities did sanction the building of two new Catholic
churches in Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Rio.

The inconsistency of treatment by the ORA is a major concern of the
report. There are fears that by making concessions to some communities,
such as the Catholic Church, the government is trying to improve its
image abroad, while restricting the activities of other groups.

"On the one hand the government is promoting this image that
everything's fine and they respect religious freedom, while
simultaneously back home, really cracking down," the CSW spokesperson
said. "My worry is that people will buy into that and believe that
narrative, when the numbers just don't show that."

The report calls for governments to recognise this double standard.

"Real religious freedom can only exist if it is enjoyed by all religious
groups without discrimination," the report says. "It is vital that the
European Union, United States and other governments around the world do
not allow the Cuban government to pretend that granting limited
privileges to one or two religious groups over others constitutes an
improvement in religious freedom."

Although the Roman Catholic Church has more freedom than most, it too
has faced problems in the last year. Having waited for years for
permission to conduct necessary repairs, the Franciscan monastery in
Guanabacoa was forced to close in 2014. As a result, most of the monks
will be leaving Cuba even though their order has been there for centuries.

Visitors travelling for religious reasons also encounter restrictions
imposed by the ORA. Visas must be issued via the ORA, which means that
unregistered groups often cannot receive visitors.

Importing Bibles and other religious materials is also severely
restricted, as it must go through the Cuban Council of Churches, to
which the majority of Protestant Cubans, as well as the Roman Catholics,
do not belong.

"The negative trend seems to be part of a general attempt by the
government to eliminate the potential or any social upheaval by cracking
down on any groups it perceives as potentially problematic," the report

Religious groups could be considered 'problematic' if the government
fears they will call for social and political reforms.

CSW does not think it likely that improved relations with the US will
have any effect on the treatment of religious groups.

The Catholic Church estimates that about 6 per cent of the Cuban
population regularly attend mass. According to CSW about 12-15 per cent
are actively involved in Protestant denominations. A large proportion of
the population (up to 80 per cent) have some involvement in
non-Christian Afro-Cuban traditional religious groups.

Source: Religious freedom worsening in Cuba: 'There is a crackdown
happening' | Christian News on Christian Today -

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