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Cuban Churches Face 'Unprecedented' Crackdown

01-19-2016

There is an "unprecedented" crackdown on churches in Cuba according to a new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The figures compiled by CSW show there was a tenfold increase in the number of religious freedom violations in Cuba in 2015 with 2,300 separate violations recorded compared to only 220 in 2014.

CSW reports the spike is largely due to government hostility against churches, with 2,000 Assemblies of God churches declared illegal and 100 shut down or demolished. The government also took over the properties of several other denominations.

The report also accuses the Office of Religious Affairs of existing "solely to monitor, hinder and restrict the activities of religious groups."

CSW points out that in 2015, the ORA "continued to deny authorization for a number of religious activities and in cooperation with other government agencies, issued fines and threats of confiscation to dozens of churches and religious organizations."

Government agents are also deploying "brutal and public tactics" to restrict freedom of religion.

"Week after week, state security agents physically and violently dragged scores of women away from Sunday morning services," the report reads. "Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services."

"This tactic is also applied to religious leaders who are viewed as problematic, for whatever reason, by the authorities," the report states.

"For the first time in four years a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in prison for holding unauthorized religious services," it said.

CSW's analysis suggests that the Cuban government is trying to "eliminate the potential for social upheaval by cracking down on any and all groups that are calling, or could call, for social and political reforms alongside the limited economic reforms the government has enacted."

"It is clear that despite promises of reform, the government is determined to maintain a tight grip on civil society, including churches," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said.

"We commend the courage of religious groups who have spoken out publicly to denounce these violations and to call for the right to freedom of religion or belief to be upheld," he said. "We urge the international community to stand with them and to hold Cuba to account for these human rights violations."

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