Calls for religious freedom in Cuba after church leaders stopped from leaving the country

(Photo: Unsplash/Yuting Gao)

The World Evangelical Alliance is calling on the Cuban government to uphold religious freedom after several pastors were prevented from leaving the country last week in order to attend the organisation's General Assembly in Indonesia. 

Seven church leaders connected to the Alianza de Iglesias Evang√©licas de Cuba (Alliance of Evangelical Churches in Cuba, AIEC) were hit by a last minute travel ban imposed by the government. 

Only one of the invited Cuban leaders was able to attend the General Assembly because he was outside the country at the time. 

The pastor, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, said that the Cuban government had been putting pressure on the AIEC since its formation last year and is refusing to recognise it as a representative body.  

He said that the reason for the crackdown was because the government fears the influence of Christians. 

"Cuba is a communist country and it's difficult to establish a new church. At the same time, the Church has been growing," he said. 

"There are 1.2 million evangelicals in Cuba - 10 per cent of the population - and so the government is afraid of that." 

He added: "They don't want the Church to be a powerful organisation that can have a voice." 

He said that the Cuban government believes the AIEC is being "manipulated" by the US government, but this is "not true" because the organisation's partnerships are with Latin America and Europe, not the US.

He went on to say that the Cuban government was trying to stoke divisions between different Christian groups in order to damage the reputation of Christianity. 

In addition to harrassment, intimidation and interrogations, the pastor said that the Cuban government was denying the necessary visitor visas for foreigners in order to prevent the AIEC from receiving visits from overseas pastors and Church leaders. 

Commenting on the crackdown, he said he wanted the Cuban government to recognise the AIEC and lift all travel restrictions on pastors in the country. 

"It is our right to go outside the country and to be a part of the global church. It is our right to practise our faith and our religion," he said.

The Secretary Generation of the World Evangelical Alliance, Bishop Efraim Tendero, said: "We call on the Cuban government to grant full recognition to the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in Cuba, cease to harass and discriminate against its leaders and churches and acknowledge the positive influence that evangelicals have on Cuban society in their neighbourhoods.

"And I call on Christians worldwide to stand in prayer and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Cuba. They have been suffering for their faith but have held on and selflessly served God and their neighbors in the face of discrimination and persecution. May their prayers for relief and recognition be heard."