A Cuban pastor detained on 11 July 2021 in the town of Palma Soriano during nationwide peaceful protests has been sentenced to eight years in prison, according to a document sent by the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva to the United Nations (UN).
The document was written in response to a communication signed by five UN Special Procedures requesting information regarding the detention of Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo. It concludes by noting that although the sentence was decided after his trial on 20 and 21 December 2021, the ‘parties’ have yet to be officially informed.
The letter from the Cuban government emphasises that Reverend Rosales Fajardo, leader of the independent, non-denominational Monte de Sion Church in Palma Soriano, does not belong to a ‘recognised church’ and denies any history of government persecution of the religious leader. It claims that his 2011 departure from the registered Open Bible denomination was an internal decision by the religious group and it ‘had nothing to do with any persecution by the Government’. However, letters from the denominational leadership at the time contradict this as they refer multiple times to conversations with the government and the religious group’s relationship with it as a factor in the decision to ask Reverend Rosales Fajardo to leave the denomination.
The government response claims that Reverend Rosales Fajardo was involved in a violent attack on 11 July on the headquarters of the Cuban Communist Party in Palma Soriano which left seven ‘agents of order’ and one civilian wounded. Live footage and photos, however, show armed police officers and members of the Black Beret paramilitary force attacking unarmed, peaceful protesters in the middle of the street, with Reverend Rosales Fajardo shown being held in a chokehold. The government denies allegations of violence against the pastor, including a beating that left him unconscious.
The response also falsely states that the pastor’s wife Maridilegnis Carballo was informed within 24 hours of their detention of the whereabouts of her husband and her son who was detained and separated from him. However, Mrs Carballo was unable to confirm the location of her husband until 14 July, while her son, who arrived home seven days later, was transported in vehicles with blacked out windows and is still unsure of where he was held.
CSW shared the Cuban government letter with Mrs Carballo, who expressed shock and anguish at only learning of the eight-year prison sentence via the government’s response to the UN. She said: “I don’t know if I can bear so much injustice and so many lies… how painful to see the disgraceful condition of the government of this nation. They speak of procedures and yet they have mostly just said lies. So many lies… there was no violence and in [Reverend Rosales Fajardo] even less so. Even in the trial they were unable to prove that. He did not use violence against anyone and that was made more than clear. They know that we are all witnesses to their lies. They no longer even have the shame to hide their lies.”
CSW’s Head of Advocacy and Americas Team Leader Anna Lee Stangl said: “It unconscionable that the Cuban government would inform the United Nations via a public letter of its decision, apparently made in December, to sentence Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo to eight years in prison, before officially informing either the pastor or his family and months after the fact. We share Mrs Carballo’s frustration at the blatant lies that make up the majority of the government’s response, which constitutes a poor attempt to justify its treatment of Reverend Rosales Fajardo, and note that many religious groups, including the pastor’s former denomination, have publicly condemned the government’s harsh treatment of those who participated in the peaceful demonstrations. We call on the Cuban government to immediately release Reverend Rosales Fajardo and all of those detained in connection with the 11 July protests, and to cease its harassment of all religious leaders.”