Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008, 19:01 (GMT)
A prominent church leader will be put on trial on Monday in what members
of his organisation say is a government campaign to silence and
Rev Robert Rodriguez, pastor of the Los Pinos Nuevos de Sagua la Grande
Church and the National President of the Interdenominational Fellowship
of Evangelical Pastors and Ministers in Cuba, and his son, pastor Eric
Gabriel Rodriguez del Toro, have been accused of "offensive behaviour"
by a neighbour, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The neighbour has allegedly carried out a campaign of harassment, with
the apparent support of local government officials, against the families
for a number of years. Prosecutors are requesting that Pastor Rodriguez
be given a one-year prison sentence.
Pastor Rodriguez, who lives in Placetas in north-central Cuba, was tried
on 8 December and was sentenced to three-months to one-year probation.
Any problems with the authorities will result in him being sent to
prison, says CSW.
As in similar cases in Cuba, however, church leaders in the country say
that the authorities are using the charges by the neighbour as a pretext
for pressuring and possibly imprisoning the two pastors. They believe
that the real reason behind this trial lies in the withdrawal of the
Interdenominational Fellowship from the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC)
in September of this year, under the leadership of Rev Rodriguez.
At the time, the fellowship published a letter outlining their reasons
for withdrawing from the CCC in which they cited consistent and illegal
interference in its internal affairs by the CCC leadership over the past
CSW says religious freedom in Cuba has worsened significantly over the
past year. Another church leader, Pastor Omar Gude Perez has been
imprisoned since May without being brought to trial. According to church
leaders in Cuba, these situations illustrate a pattern of official
intolerance towards religious leaders who resist government interference
in church organisations.
In October, government authorities stripped Rev Rodriguez of his
position as President of the Interndenominational Fellowship in the
government Registry of Associations, a move which was condemned as
unconstitutional by its members as it was done without their involvement
or approval. Since then, they say, the families have been subjected to a
campaign of accusations and harassment, culminating in the trial.
CSW said Rev Rodriguez's health has suffered as a result of the
situation. He has had problems with his kidneys and is believed to have
lost over thirty pounds over the past few months. A local official,
Romulo Palacios, reportedly physically mistreated him when he and his
son presented themselves at the local police station in Placetas
Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW said, "We are deeply concerned
for the well-being of Reverend Rodriguez and call on the Cuban
authorities to drop the charges against him and his son.
"That the family was notified the day after Christmas and only three
days before the scheduled trial indicates that the authorities are
hoping that this will go unnoticed outside of the country.
"The international community must make it clear to the Cuban government
that this is unacceptable and that religious freedom must be respected."