In a story largely ignored by the mainstream media, the socialist government of Cuba banned several Christian ministers from visiting a religious freedom conference and arrested a journalist earlier this week.
Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba (AECC, Alianza de Iglesias Evangélicas Cubana) members Rev. Moises de Prada Esquivel and the Rev. Alida Leon Baez were stopped by the Cuban State Security at Havana’s José Marti International Airport, where they were informed they would not be allowed to fly to Washington, D.C. for the event, Morning Star News reports. Both men serve as executive board members of the AECC and were to represent the religious organization at the event.
The regime cracked down on several other Christian ministers seeking traveling privileges. The Cuban government denied them visa renewals and permissions to make the trip outside of the country for the conference.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioner Kristina Arriaga released a statement condemning the actions of the Cuban government.
“If the denial of religious freedom in Cuba was ever in question, the Cuban government laid to rest all doubt this weekend by blatantly prohibiting four pastors, leaders of the country’s major religious organizations, from leaving the country to attend the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D. C,” she said. “This is exactly the type of human rights violation that we and Ministerial attendees from all over the world are working to expose and to prevent. We urge the Cuban government to allow these religious leaders to participate in this important conversation - in person - and to return to Cuba to work together with officials to improve religious freedom conditions for all of its citizens.”
This comes on the heels of Cuban state security officials forcibly detaining religious journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre after he visited a human rights group.
Metro Voice News reports that Fernandez was arrested following his visit to the offices of the Ladies in White in the city of Havana.
Religious freedom advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) condemned the arrest in a statement from their head of advocacy, Anna-Lee Stangl.
“CSW holds the Cuban government responsible for the wellbeing of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre,” she said. “Violations of freedom of religion or belief have increased in Cuba over the past six months, and Ricardo has dedicated himself to (traveling) across the country, often at great personal sacrifice, sleeping in bus stations and skipping meals, in order to document these cases and to offer solidarity to the victims. We call on the authorities to release him immediately.”
The travel bans and arrests have prompted criticisms from the Cuban religious community.
One pastor spoke to Morning Star News on the condition of anonymity, out of fear for his safety.
“In Cuba, there is no real freedom of expression or of worship,” he said. “Any person who openly opposes the established system is looking for problems.”
Despite the obvious violations of both the human rights of religious freedom and freedom of the press, the mainstream media has largely been silent on both of these issues.
Premier UK reports Izaguirre was released from prison following a seven-day detention.
"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." He said in a statement to CSW. "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."
He added, "I was freed without any explanation - just as they had arrested me."