A religious freedom defender has been blocked from leaving Cuba to attend a conference on human rights and democracy. Fếlix Llerena López was preparing to board his flight on Saturday 17 June, when state security agents approached him and took him into an office where they informed him that he was barred from leaving the country.
While Llerena López was not given a reason for the travel ban, he was told that it had been put in place after he returned from a visit to the United States (US) in May, his first trip outside of the country. Llerena López works with the Patmos Institute, an independent civil society organisation which promotes freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all and inter-religious dialogue. While he was in the US, he raised concerns about FoRB violations in meetings with US government officials and members of Congress arranged by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Llerena Lopez was expelled from university shortly after his return.
In addition, last week, a prominent leader in the Apostolic Movement, Pastor Alain Toledano, was visited by state security agents and Communist Party officials at his home in Santiago de Cuba, who showed him an ‘acta de advertencia’, or a pre-arrest warrant, which he is concerned may also be used to block him from traveling abroad.
In a statement to CSW, Pastor Toledano said, “…the strategy that the police are using here is that they come one by one to the house, they don’t send a citation, nothing written down, and they don’t give you a copy of the ‘actas de advertencia’ against you, even if you ask for one, since they know it can be used against them. They are perfecting their methods so as not to leave any traces of their persecution and acts of evil against the churches and ministries, even as we suffer here in the country.”
While the government requirement for an exit visa was dropped in 2013, there has been an increase in the number of Cuban activists involved with independent civil society organisations and the defence of human rights or democracy being blocked from leaving the country. In one example, that of Karina Gálvez, who works with Convivencia, an independent civil society organisation in Pinar del Rio. The government has brought trumped up charges against her which prevent her from leaving the country. In other cases, like that of Llerena López and also Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White Movement who was prevented from leaving the country last month, officials have simply blocked them from boarding flights out of the country with no official justification given.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We are deeply concerned by what has happened to Felix Llerena López and Pastor Toledano over the past week, and condemn what appears to be a wider strategy of arbitrarily blocking certain human rights and democracy activists, including religious leaders and FoRB defenders, from leaving the country. We call on the European Union, the United States and other members of the international community to raise this with the Cuban authorities and to push for the right of freedom of movement to be respected for all, especially those who are involved in peaceful religious activities and the promotion of universally recognised human rights.”