A report by human rights advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has revealed the Cuban government has taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to legitimise, on various occasions, violations to the right of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) throughout 2020.
While the number of violations recorded in 2020 is lower than the 260 registered in 2019, experts say this is because coronavirus reduced the number of interactions between the government and religious groups, not because of greater tolerance towards believers.
Documented rights abuses include arbitrary detention, threats, harassment and surveillance of religious leaders and FoRB defenders; efforts by the Government to block overseas humanitarian aid and the distribution of food by religious groups; defamation of religious leaders online and the targeting of church properties with demolition, vandalism and forced closure.
An example of the latter was the demolition of an Assemblies of God church in Santiago de Cuba in October last year. Pastor Fausto Palomo Cabrera was taken by government officials who tried to pressure him into signing a document that said that all parties had agreed to the demolition of the building.
CSW's head of advocacy Anna Lee-Stangl said: "It is clear from this report that the situation for religious groups across Cuba remains in dire need of international attention, as illustrated by State Department's decision to place Cuba on the Special Watch List for the second year running.
"As feared, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided the Cuban authorities with another way of legitimising violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, which have been further facilitated by repressive legislation.
"CSW calls on the international community to take heed of the recommendations contained within this report and urges the Cuban authorities to fully respect the right to FoRB in line with both the country's own constitution and international standards on this fundamental human right."