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World News

Christian persecution spikes in Cuba

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian religious freedom charity has expressed concern over an increase of persecution in Cuba.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has revealed it received 260 documented violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in 2019, compared to 151 in 2018.

A new report by CSW detailed deteriorating religious freedom protections due to Cuba's new constitution.

Recorded violations include harassment of religious leaders, arbitrary detention, confiscation of religious property, the forced closure of churches, and restrictions on travel, movement and the distribution of religious materials.

Phoebe, CSW's Cuba advocacy officer, told Premier News Hour: "The primary leaders of the Cuban Evangelical Alliance have received travel bans and have not been allowed to leave the country since forming this alliance in June 2019.

"There are also outspoken advocates for religious freedom and documenters, who when they're documenting violations due to their role as ardent defenders of religious freedom, are often stopped, arrested, arbitrarily detained, due to their work in this field."

The report also reveals a pattern of discrimination in education against children belonging to religious groups, who are either targeted because of their own faith or because of the faith of their parents.

It said: "Acts of discrimination can be severe, including teachers or school administrators encouraging or even organising verbal and sometimes physical attacks on religious students."

The main perpetrator of the FoRB violations is the Cuban government's Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which has the right to regulate religious affairs on the island.

 The report states: "The wording of the new constitution indicates that the government has no plans to improve FoRB or freedom of conscience, but rather is looking to tighten its grip on religious groups and religious expression."

CSW's head of advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said despite all of these violations, there is a silver lining. 

"There remains some cause for hope as demonstrated by the formation of the Cuban Alliance of Evangelical Churches and the increasing number of Cubans who are documenting and speaking out on FoRB violations despite the potential repercussions."

She added: ""The international community must do everything in its power to support FoRB defenders as well as efforts to promote more unity and cooperation among different religious groups, as well as other efforts to defend the right to FoRB in Cuba, including by raising the cases contained in this report at every opportunity."

In December 2019, the United States State Department announced that Cuba had been added to the Special Watchlist for governments that have engaged in or tolerated "severe violations of religious freedom".

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