Church destroyed and 200 hundred members detained in Cuba

Cuban authorities demolished a large church on 5 February while hundreds of church members were detained, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Rev Alain Toledano preaching at the Emanuel ChurchCSW

Emanuel Church in eastern Cuba, affiliated to the Apostolic Movement – an unregistered Protestant denomination – was surrounded by officials including police, state security and the military at 5am last Friday.

They detained Rev Alain Toledano's wife before demolishing both the church and the pastor's home. Property found inside the church including pews, chairs and a piano were confiscated. Toledano was in the United States at the time of the incident.

Approximately 200 leaders and members of the church were also detained. Around forty were held in a local school and the rest were taken to police stations, apparently to ensure there were no protests against the demolition.

CSW says church leaders reported that many were beaten during their detention.

Despite the existance of  legal documents proving rightful ownership, over 1,000 blocks of cement were also confiscated by the government, according to CSW.

The church building and home were privately owned by Toledano and extension work had previously been approved by the government.

Emanuel church members meet to pray following the demolitionCSW

Toledano told CSW that he believes the timing of the demolition coinciding with his trip to the US was not a coincidence, but tactical.

He said he had received numerous threats of church eviction and closure throughout 2015.

This is the second time the family has experienced the destruction of both church and home, and Toledano expressed concern about the impact these events would have on his daughters – aged 11 and 12 – who he said were screaming as they witnessed their mother being detained.

"This series of demolitions since the New Year indicates a worrying escalation in terms of violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive.

The Cuban government has repeatedly refused to register Apostolic Movement churches and Friday's destruction comes in the wake of similar demolitions in Camaguey and Las Tunas provinces on 8 January.