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Pastor Alejandro Hernandez Cepero


Pastors threatened and released

2 Nov 2023

Two religious leaders who were arbitrarily detained by Cuba’s internal intelligence services on the morning of 31 October ahead of an event focusing on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) were released later that afternoon. Both men said they were threatened by officials from the Department of State Security (DSE) and warned against participating in such events.

The event, a roundtable to encourage citizen engagement on FoRB, took place in Havana despite the absence of Alejandro Hernández Cepero and Luis Eugenio Maldonado Calvo, both Protestant pastors, and the heavy presence of Cuban security forces who surrounded the location and attempted to stop some attendees from participating. Some of those present told CSW that representatives from a wide range of religious groups were able to attend. Similar events took place simultaneously on other parts of the island.

Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, an exiled Baptist pastor and founder of the Patmos Institute, an independent civil society organisation in Cuba which defends FoRB and promotes inter-religious dialogue, told CSW: ‘Unfortunately the Cuban dictatorship views the theme of religious freedom as a sensitive topic, associated with the United States which it sees as its historic enemy. They are unable to understand, that they are dealing with a universal theme, and they see it as an issue of national security which – and they are right about this – will strengthen Cuban civil society.’

Pastors Hernández Cepero and Maldonado Calvo were both questioned about their relationship with Reverend Lleonart Barroso by DSE agents using pseudonyms. Pastor Maldonado Calvo told CSW that the officers made it clear that ‘they planned to fabricate a reason to accuse us [of criminal activity], because they told me so multiple times… that I should not continue to support these meetings, because they could damage my reputation and accuse me of some crime that would result in my imprisonment for various years.’ He went on to say that the DSE officers said that the FoRB roundtable was a pretext to ‘meet together to plant bombs and to carry out attacks.’

The absence of the two religious leaders meant that they were unable to present the Patmos Institute’s annual prize, given to Cuban individuals who exemplify the importance of FoRB, as had been planned for the event. This year’s recipients are sisters Angélica and María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez and brothers Jorge and Nadir Martín Perdomo, all political prisoners detained following their peaceful participation in the nationwide protests of 11 July 2021. The four individuals have been repeatedly denied the right to receive visits from religious leaders while in prison, or to participate in religious activities, and have experienced discrimination and ridicule because of their religious beliefs. The mother of the Martín Perdomo brothers, Marta Perdomo, who has been blocked from attending religious services as part of the government’s policy of socially isolating dissidents and their families, was present in order to receive the prize on behalf of her sons.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘CSW condemns the Cuban government’s detention of Pastors Alejandro Hernández Cepero and Luis Eugenio Maldonado Calvo and acts of intimidation targeting participants of peaceful gatherings to discuss the right to freedom of religion or belief. The courage of those who attended and participated in the FoRB roundtables in Havana and across the country cannot be underestimated. We urge the international community to closely monitor and support these and similar events and to make it clear to the Cuban government that its efforts to prevent its citizens from coming together to dialogue about fundamental rights enshrined in international law and which the Cuban government purports to protect, are unacceptable.’



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