CUBA: Documented religious freedom violations more than double in 2022
‘Freedoms, like privileges, prevail or are imperiled together. You cannot harm or strive to achieve one without harming or furthering all.’ – Jose Marti
CSW 06.02.2023) – Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s new report on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba, published today, finds that documented FoRB violations more than doubled from 2021 to 2022.
Violations include but are not limited to harassment, arbitrary detention, restrictions on movement and travel, prevention from attending religious services, confiscation of goods and property, and attacks on social media.
The report documents 657 violations of FoRB in 2022, and describes it as a ‘staggering jump from 272 in the previous year’. Notably, this increase was documented despite the fact that all of CSW’s documenters were forced into exile over the course of the year due to continuing threats and harassment.
This increase in FoRB violations is a continuation of the government crackdown that began in 2021 following the 11 July protests, and it has affected religious associations of all types, including both registered and unregistered groups from the Afro-Cuban, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Roman Catholic communities.
As in previous years, the Office for Religious Affairs (ORA) remains primarily responsible for these violations, and maintains a consistently antagonistic relationship with religious groups despite the creation of the new government Department for Attention to Religious Institutions and Fraternal Groups in March 2022.
The report suggests that the situation is likely to deteriorate further following the adoption of a new criminal code which came into force on 1 December 2022 and will amplify the government’s ability to crack down on religious leaders, especially those associated with unregistered groups. In addition, a new family code is due to be implemented in 2023 which strengthens the ability of the government to force religious leaders and others into compliance using the threat of the removal of their children if their parent or guardian is perceived as insufficiently supportive of the authorities.
In this context, the report details a historic wave of emigration in which hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled the island since July 2021 to seek sanctuary elsewhere. Some church leaders and FoRB defenders were forced to leave under threats of imprisonment and the loss of their children including Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, independent journalist Yoel Suárez, and Apostolic Movement leader Alain Toledano Valiente.
The report concludes: ‘It is now even more vital that governments around the world, and especially Cuba’s friends and neighbours in Latin America, emphatically voice concerns about Cuba’s consistent violations of human rights including FoRB and seek ways to support independent civil society in Cuba, including religious groups. The European Union and the United States, for their part, must actively seek ways to coordinate with each other and engage with other governments, especially those in the Western Hemisphere, to ensure that demands that the Cuban government make long overdue reforms to ensure that the fundamental rights of all are protected and upheld are made consistently and in unison. Ultimately the future of Cuba lies with its people; those around the world who believe in the principles of democracy and fundamental human rights must stand with them in their peaceful pursuit of political and social change.’
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl said: ‘The situation for freedom of religion or belief deteriorated once again in Cuba in 2022, and without significant and concerted international intervention this trend is likely to continue into 2023. Despite this, we are heartened by the many religious leaders and human rights defenders on and outside of the island who continue to speak publicly on FoRB and other violations. We stand with them, and urge the international community to do the same by taking heed of the recommendations contained within this report and holding the Cuban Communist Party to account for its decades-long mistreatment of religion and belief groups in the country.’
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