A prominent religious freedom defender in Cuba has been detained and is being held incommunicado. Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre presented himself at the Camagüey police station at 1pm on Tuesday 12 November after he received a verbal police summons the day before. He has not been seen or heard from since.
Henry Constantín Ferreiro, a journalist at the independent Cuban journal ‘,’ that the authorities refused to share any information with Mr Fernández Izaguirre’s wife or work colleagues who had gathered outside the station to wait for him. Instead, an officer told the group that there was an investigation into Mr Fernández Izaguirre, and that he would be held incommunicado for four days. Mr Constantín Ferreiro also reported that when Mr Fernández Izaguirre’s wife, Yusleysi Gil Mauricio, entered the station to ask about the charges against him, “three State Security agents threatened and insulted her and Ricardo” and told her he “would be judged for being a counter-revolutionary.”
Mr Fernández Izaguirre, who has documented over 60 violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) this year, was previouslyin July. He was held incommunicado for four days and released after ten days. Shortly after this experience he expressed concern to CSW that the Cuban government would attempt to fabricate a criminal case against him, concerns that seemed to be confirmed when many of his neighbours and colleagues reported that they had been approached by Cuban State Security officers asking questions about the activist. Mr Constantín Ferreiro reported that the three State Security agents told Mrs Gil Mauricio on Tuesday that a "key witness for the accusation that supposedly had been lodged" against Mr Fernández Izaguirre would be brought to the station the following day.
The Cuban government has ramped up attacks on FoRB and pressure on religious leaders since thewhich severely weakened language on FoRB and freedom of conscience in February this year. On Sunday 10 November the president of the Eastern Baptist Convention, one of the largest protestant denominations on the island and one of the founding members of , was stopped from boarding a flight and informed that he is banned from leaving the country. Other prominent Protestant leaders, including the leaders of the Evangelical League and the Methodist Church of Cuba, both also founding members of the Cuban Evangelical Alliance, and Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente of the Apostolic Movement, , supposedly for reasons of national security.
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: “We are deeply concerned about the wellbeing of Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre and call on the Cuban government to release him without charge immediately. Ricardo has dedicated himself to investigating and documenting violations of freedom of religion or belief experienced by people of all faiths across the country. Rather than attempting to criminalise this peaceful human rights work, the Cuban government should instead focus on improving its FoRB record and upholding the rights of its citizens to practice their religion or belief without interference from the state. We urge the Cuban government to lift the travel ban on Cuban religious leaders and human rights defenders without delay.”