Cuba Returns to ‘Hardline Tactics’ as Over 600 Religious Freedom Violations Tallied in 2023

The crackdown on religious freedom continues in Cuba as a new persecution watchdog report tallies 622 documented religious freedom violations in 2023 amid a return to “hardline tactics.” The Caribbean Island maintained a high level of incidents like the 657 cases reported in 2022 and maintained a significant increase from the 272 cases reported in 2021 by the U.K. based organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). CSW’s March 2024 report titled highlights repressive legislation and systematic human rights violations that have impacted religious leaders and congregations across various faiths, including Afro-Cuban groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants and Roman Catholics. The communist Cuban government, following protests, intensified its repressive measures, targeting religious groups and leaders with increasingly harsh legislation. Both registered and unregistered religious associations are subjected to intrusive surveillance, repeated interrogations and threats aimed at stifling their religious activities. “The government continued to focus on targeting religious leaders and those who offered support to families of political prisoners,” the report states.

“Religious leaders and their congregations who attempted to respond to humanitarian needs, which have become increasingly acute, were harassed, fined, and saw the aid they were attempting to distribute confiscated.” Among the several rights violations highlighted in the report were religious leaders being threatened and pressured to expel family members of political prisoners from their congregations as part of a “policy of social isolation.” Political prisoners were denied religious visits or the right to receive religious materials. Children were subjected to verbal abuse at school “because of their religious beliefs.” Leaders of unregistered religious groups faced harassment, threats, and fines. “Those considered by the government to be dissidents were systematically blocked from attending religious services,” the report adds. “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.” Unregistered religious groups have borne the brunt of the government’s tactics, facing regular harassment and threats of fines.

“I told them that I do not belong to a counter-revolutionary church. I am a believer in God and a follower of Christ. I belong to an alliance-building Church seeking unity among pastors who support one another to serve Cuba with greater excellence,” an unnamed religious leader told CSW researchers. “I told them that they can do with me whatever they want, but I will not stop attending church. I will give the same treatment to Christians of any denomination, as I would to any citizen, communist or not. I told them that if they want to take away my rights for having provided services, or going to church, so be it.” The government’s strategy extends beyond mere repression, using social isolation and short-term arbitrary detention, which has led to a notable emigration wave as Cubans flee the island, citing threats of imprisonment and coercive measures against their families. The July 2021 protests marked a significant moment in the nation’s recent history, as thousands of Cubans took to the streets in various cities to express their frustration with the government’s handling of the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lack of political freedoms.

In Cuba, the government is the primary persecutor of Christians, viewing any potential rival to the Cuba Communist Party, including the Christian faith, as a threat, reports the watchdog Open Doors. Church leaders or believers who criticize human rights abuses or political corruption risk interrogation, arrest, smear campaigns and imprisonment. Churches must register to operate legally, but the government may deny or ignore these applications, forcing churches to function illicitly and risk closure or fines and property confiscation. Even registered churches face intense scrutiny and monitoring, with infiltration by regime sympathizers or state security agents. Religious leaders told CSW that most “business continues to be conducted by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), which maintains a consistently antagonistic relationship with religious groups.” While churches in Cuba can hold services, government tolerance can abruptly end if a leader or member is perceived as anti-government, according to Open Doors. Unregistered churches who openly challenge the regime are especially vulnerable to persecution.

Source:  Christian Post

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