The charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called for the immediate release of a pastor who was detained in Cuba because of his determination to preach religious freedom.
Alejandro Hernández Cepero, founder of an independent Protestant Christian group called the Alia Movement, was taken from his home in the early hours of Tuesday. A Department of State Security (DSE) agent seized the pastor from Havana, following a summons the previous day.
A summons has also been issued to pastor Luis Eugenio Maldonado Calvo, who works with a Protestant Christian denomination known as Rehobot. According to CSW sources, the pair were targeted by the DSE because of their involvement in an initiative to organise roundtables to discuss Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).
The first of such FoRB debates took place in Havana and El Cristo, Santiago earlier this month. A second set of discussions was scheduled for 31st October - the day after both pastors received their summons.
Members of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Afro-Cuban community were invited to attend the debate.
Cuba has a communist regime where political opposition is not permitted. If the state passes new legislation, churches and religious groups are not consulted and are forced to comply. As a result, Christians there can face persecution from the authorities.
According to anti-persecution charity Open Doors, church leaders and Christian activists in the country experience harassment, violence, arrests and imprisonment by the authorities for speaking out against corruption and for defending religious freedom.
CSW has expressed "extreme concern" over pastor Cepero's detention and are calling for his "immediate and unconditional release."
Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: "CSW is similarly concerned for Pastor Luis Eugenio Maldonado Calvo’s well-being. While the Cuban government claims that it respects freedom of religion or belief, a fundamental right enshrined in international law, its internal intelligence apparatus harasses and arbitrarily detains religious leaders simply for their participation in roundtables to build bridges between religious groups and to discuss this right.
"We urge members of the international community to condemn the Cuban government’s actions and to closely monitor the case of these two religious leaders and all of those involved in the promotion of FoRB.’