Cuban religious freedom activist threatened after US visit

2 May 2017

Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez, a religious freedom activist, was threatened on his return to Cuba following a US advocacy visit.

Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López, A 20 year-old religious freedom activist and university student, was detained and threatened on his return to Cuba following a visit to the US, which included advocacy meetings arranged by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in Washington, DC to raise concerns about continued violations of religious freedom in Cuba.

Llerena López was interrogated by state security agents upon arrival at the Abel Santamaria International Airport in Santa Clara on 27 April. On 28 April, he was detained by state security, interrogated, threatened and forced to sign an ‘Acta de Advertencia’ or pre-arrest warrant for public disorder. Llerana López reported that he was questioned aggressively by two high ranking state security officers, who appeared to have detailed information about his activities while in the United States.

They told him: “This is a country town; the people here don’t know anything about human rights and if one of these country peasants is made to believe that you are going to commit a terrorist act, he is going to cut you open with a machete, and later you won’t be able to say that we sent him.” 

Llerena López’s mother, Mileidis López Sosa, who did not travel with her son, was also temporarily detained and interrogated in what appears to be another attempt to intimidate the young activist.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We are extremely concerned about the government’s treatment of Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López upon his return to Cuba. Public accusations linking him to terrorism are not only preposterous and unfounded, but also put his family in danger. We call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment of Fếlix and to turn its attention to addressing its ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief as a matter of urgency. We also urge the international community to closely monitor this situation.”

Llerena López is the Central Region Coordinator for the Patmos Institute, an independent civil society organisation which promotes freedom of religion or belief and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

He visited Washington, DC in mid-April as part of a delegation of Patmos Institute leaders who briefed Congressional staffers, State Department officials, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and other non-governmental organisations about violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba. The delegation also included Apostolic Movement Pastor Yiorvis Bravo Denis, Baptist church leaders Reverend Mario Fếlix Lleonart Barroso and Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, and Baptist theologian and former political prisoner Raudel Garcia Bringas.

The group presented an updated version of the document “Thirty Questions for the Cuban Government”, which lists a series of ways in which the Cuban government violates freedom of religion or belief, and which was originally published in September 2013.

Garcia Bringas told US officials: “While different religious traditions are not afforded the same legal rights; while different religious traditions are not afforded the same social rights; while there is no opening for a Church-Society dialogue where socio-ethical bases can be established without being censored by the interests of the Cuban government; while censorship and religious repression persist such as a) blocking people from attending Sunday worship services, b) the fact that is necessary for churches to request special permission from the Cuban government for special activities or other actions such as renovating their places of worship, acquiring means of transport, etc c)Places of worship continue to be destroyed and confiscated; while they do not grant permission to build new churches or places of worship; while new religious traditions remain unrecognized; while the Cuban Penitentiary Regimen in respect to Religious Attention in Cuban prisons remains inadequately implemented; while no Law of Worship exists which would offer the same legal and constitutional framework to all religious traditions equally, we understand that in Cuba there is only religious tolerance, which is distinct from religious freedom.”

In the meetings, Llerena López, who had never traveled outside of Cuba before, acknowledged that he expected to be targeted by the government upon his return. He expressed particular concern that his university studies might be negatively affected, citing a recent wave of expulsions from the Marta Abreu University of Las Villas of teachers and students who are linked to independent civil society organisations.

The adult daughter of another Patmos Institute leader was also among those targeted. Dalila Rodriguez, an evangelical Christian, was informed by Andrés Castro Alegría, that she was being fired after ten years as a Professor of Linguistics because she was "not considered to be a good influence on students and could damage their formation.”

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