A report published by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba has found that the number of documented violations increased in 2021 amidst a crackdown on unprecedented civil unrest.
The report called 'Homeland, Faith, Life: a call for freedom in Cuba' documents 272 cases involving 498 violations of FoRB in 2021 - an increase from 203 cases in 2020 and 260 in 2019.
Violations documented include denial of religious visas, arbitrary detention, threats, harassment and physical abuse, forced closure of places of worship, prevention from attending religious services, prevention from travelling abroad, and the loss of employment.
CSW's Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: "The situation for religious and belief groups in Cuba grew even more concerning in 2021.
"Even as the country continues to struggle with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and chronic shortages of essential items, the Cuban Communist Party appears set on tightening restrictions on the rights of it's people and crushing all forms of dissent.
"Religious and belief groups, which together comprise the largest sector of independent civil society, are viewed as a serious potential threat to the system.
"We urge the international community to take heed of the calls of this report, and we reiterate our unwavering support for all those in Cuba who are calling for and working towards a Cuba in which in everyone is free to believe."
The report also explored more in depth the Cuban authorities' crackdown on religious leaders and adherents who participated in peaceful protests which spread across the country on 11 July 2021.
In total (CSW) received reports of eight religious leaders who were arbitrarily detained in connection with the protests, sometimes violently.
These included Protestant Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, whose case is ongoing. Pastor Rosales Fajardo has been imprisoned since 11 July; he was tried on 20 and 21 December and is still awaiting the news of his sentencing.
The government has requested ten years imprisonment.
Despite these and other concerning developments, the report highlights that there were some limited positive steps in the country in 2021, including - most significantly - the increased willingness of religious leaders to speak out publicly regarding violations of human rights.