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Christian freedom defender released from detention in Cuba

Christian Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre was arbitrarily detained by state authorities upon leaving the headquarters of opposition movement Ladies in White, who silently protest imprisonments by attending Sunday Mass in white garments.

The Cuban government has forcibly prevented members of the Ladies in White from attending church services and other religious activities, placing them in custody and often dropping them off in remote locations to find their own way home.

Mr Izaguirre documented a number of cases of religious persecution towards Christian groups in the region, including The Apostolic Movement, a network of charismatic protestant churches to which Ricardo is a member and which the government has refused to register.

Upon his release, Fernandez Izaguirre told freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW): "The experience has given me the opportunity to know a reality that I had no idea about. Many times I had to stand between the prisoners and police as the guards would often beat the prisoners and I refused to let this happen. Many were there due to unjust circumstances and because of arbitrary laws."

His detention took place against a backdrop of increasing violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba.

Mr Fernandez Izaguirre described the circumstances under which he was detained on Friday 21 July, he said: "They kept me handcuffed all day in a locked patrol car. That evening, they took me to a prison, gave me prison clothes and took away all of my belongings and put me in a cell. I was with 14 other prisoners; nearly all of them had light sentences."
Ricardo spent four days on hunger strike in protest of his imprisonment. He claims the authorities should have released him immediately but had held him for seven days to try to stop his work defending human rights.

He continued: "I was freed without any explanation - just as they had arrested me."

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "While we welcome the release of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, we maintain that he should never have been detained. His detention is the latest indicator of a crackdown on dissident voices inside Cuba that has been taking place for decades.
"CSW calls on the Cuban authorities to allow Mr Fernandez Izaguirre and his family to enjoy his freedom without further harassment, and to release all those detained in connection with their religion, belief, or the defence of human rights immediately and without condition."

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