Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cuban church leaders appeal to US over religious freedom

Cuban church leaders appeal to US over religious freedom
by ASSIST News ServicePosted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 11:53 (BST)

A delegation of Cuban church leaders has called on the US government to
add Cuba to its Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list as one of the
world's worst violators of religious freedom.

The delegation, hosted by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), last
week briefed members of Congress and US government officials in
Washington DC on the sharp rise in religious freedom violations in Cuba.

Former prisoner of conscience and denominational leader Rev Carlos
Lamelas, and his wife Uramis, were among the church leaders who briefed
the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus and
Commissioners from the United States Commission for International
Religious Freedom (USCRIF).

CSW said that the group shared personal experiences of state-sponsored
human rights violations and also gave an overview of how the Cuban
government attempts to control and manipulate religious groups.

In a written declaration, Rev Lamelas said, "My case is far from being
an isolated case and it is even less so the worst of the repression
suffered by Christian ministries in Cuba. The difference perhaps was
that I was blessed to have had my case made public in the international
media. For this reason, it is my responsibility to speak out about the
repressive and unscrupulous manipulations of this decaying regime.

"In this declaration, I urge whoever can do so, to judge the Castro
government as violators of the most basic human rights. They extend
their arms, like an octopus, to repress not only Cuban civil society but
also all believers, including church hierarchies, which on occasion work
in complicity with them."

Since the start of this year, CSW has recorded over 40 separate
incidents of religious freedom violations in Cuba compared with 28 in
all of 2011.

Religious freedom violations range from preventing people from attending
church services to the seizure of church land, and official harassment,
beatings and imprisonment of church leaders. Some cases involve large
groups of people.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, "While religious freedom
has always been limited in Cuba, the spike in religious freedom
violations this year is deeply troubling. The figures are not exhaustive
but show a clear trend, confirmed by the members of this week's
delegation, which is at odds with the claim of Raul Castro that his
government respects religious freedom.

"We echo Rev Lamelas' call to the international community to recognise
the Cuban government's systematic and escalating violations of corporate
and individual religious freedom and urge the US to place Cuba on its
CPC list."

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