CSW - everyone free to believe


Repression and resistance - a return to hardline tactics

14 Mar 2024

Executive summary

There was no sign in 2023 of a let up by the Cuban government in respect to the crackdown, including increasingly repressive legislation, that began in 2021 following the 11 July protests. The number of documented cases involving violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) remained steady, around 622, as compared to 657 in 2022, which had jumped from 272 in 2021. CSW observed a return to hardline tactics, with systematic violations of the Nelson Mandela Rules when it came to political prisoners in the form of the consistent refusal of religious visits or the right to receive religious materials, religious leaders threatened and pressured to expel the family members of political prisoners from their congregations as part of a policy of social isolation, children subjected to physical and verbal abuse at school because of their religious beliefs, religious leaders of unregistered religious groups repeatedly harassed, threatened and fined, and religious leaders of registered groups targeted for intrusive surveillance, repeat interrogations, and other pressure tactics. 

Religious groups of all types, including Afro-Cuban groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, and Roman Catholics, registered and unregistered associations, including some that belong to the Cuba Council of Churches (CCC), all reported FoRB violations. The government continued to be particularly focused on targeting religious leaders and individuals who offered spiritual or material support to families of political prisoners. Religious leaders and their congregations who attempted to respond to humanitarian needs, which have become increasingly acute in many parts of the island, were harassed, fined, and, in many cases, saw the aid they were attempting to distribute confiscated. Those considered by the government to be dissidents were repeatedly and systematically blocked from attending religious services, usually through short term arbitrary detention. The emigration wave showed no sign of diminishing, with many of those who left Cuba citing threats of imprisonment and loss of custody of their children to the State. 

Despite the efforts of the government to silence independent or critical voices, religious leaders from registered and unregistered groups alike continued to speak publicly about FoRB and other human rights violations and to be openly critical of legislation and government positions. It is notable that many Cubans who reported experiencing FoRB violations, in many cases many severe, also affirmed their intention to resist government pressure. One pastor who was threatened said:

All I am doing is my pastoral work, and my work is a commandment from the Lord. I will continue to do this work, even if it means I have to go to prison.

The government appears to still be depending on a strategy of harsh oppression and repressive laws to bring the population under as much of its control as possible. It has made it clear that there will be no political or social reform. While some Cubans, no doubt, are more cautious and many have seen no other option than to go into exile, there remain many who, even in the face of threats, harassment, and the possibility of imprisonment, continue to speak out against injustice and up for those in their communities who are suffering. 

Click here to download the full report as a PDF.



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We believe no one should suffer discrimination, harassment or persecution because of their beliefs