An unprecedented crackdown on churches across the denominational spectrum in Cuba in 2015 has fuelled a spike in reported violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), according to a new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
compiled by CSW, which are not exhaustive but which serve as an indicator of
the level of FoRB violations, reveal a tenfold
increase - with 2,300 separate violations recorded in 2015 compared to 220
in 2014. Many incidents involve involved entire churches or, in the case of
arrests, dozens of victims. A digital
illustration by CSW highlights the crackdown on churches in Cuba.
The spike in
cases was largely due to the government declaring 2,000 Assemblies of God (AoG)
churches illegal, ordering the closure or demolition of 100 AoG churches in
three provinces, and expropriating the properties of a number of other
denominations, including the Methodist and Baptist Conventions. Legally
registered and unregistered religious groups across the denominational spectrum
reported varying degrees of hostility from the government.
“the consistently antagonistic relationship” between Caridad del Rosario Diego
Bello, director of the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm of the
Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party which oversees religious affairs
on the island, and the leadership of many religious groups, “is evidence that
the office exists solely to monitor, hinder and restrict the activities of religious
In 2015, the
ORA continued to deny authorisation for a number of religious activities and in
cooperation with other government agencies, issued fines and threats of
confiscation to dozens of churches and religious organizations. The ORA also
sanctioned the arbitrary expropriation of historic, registered church
properties and the actions against the AoG churches.
also highlights “more brutal and public tactics” being employed by government
agents than were witnessed in the first decade of the millennium:
week, state security agents physically and violently dragged scores of women
away from Sunday morning services. Most were arbitrarily detained until after
the conclusion of religious services. The government continued to employ a
strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention to target those it views as
political dissidents. This tactic is also applied to religious leaders who are
viewed as problematic, for whatever reason, by the authorities…for the first
time in four years a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in
prison for holding unauthorised religious services.”
In the face of
intense pressure, many Christians are engaging in peaceful protest, as seen in
the case of the attempted
demolition of an AoG church in Santiago de Cuba in November 2015 which was
thwarted after local Christians held a peaceful sit-in at the church building.
On 8 January 2016, a large-scale
government operation led to the mass arrests of several church leaders and
the blocking of their communications devices while two churches were
demolished, possibly to pre-empt a similar protest. Both churches belonged to
the Apostolic Movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches.
suggests that the Cuban government is trying to eliminate the potential for
social upheaval by cracking down on any and all groups that are calling, or
could call, for social and political reforms alongside the limited economic
reforms the government has enacted.
Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW doesn’t use the word ‘unprecedented’ lightly
to refer to violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba in 2015.
Following an upward trend in violations in recent years, 2015 witnessed a spike
as the authorities deployed ever more public and brutal tactics to target
churches across the denominational spectrum, regardless of their legal status.
It is clear that despite promises of reform, the government is determined to
maintain a tight grip on civil society, including churches. We commend the
courage of religious groups who have spoken out publicly to denounce these
violations and to call for the right to freedom of religion or belief to be
upheld. We urge the international community to stand with them and to hold Cuba
to account for these human rights violations.”