Cuba: Government orders demolition of five churches

Rev Alain Toledano and his congregation have attempted to block the government's edict, but to no avail.CSW

Every church in one Cuban neighbourhood are at risk of demolition, leading a local pastor to accuse the government of leading a "witch hunt against churches".

Reports received by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) say that the Cuban government has issued an order to demolish every church in the Abel Santa Maria neighbourhood of the city of Santiago de Cuba, in the south of the country.

The order, issued on November 27, said that pastors and their families who live in the churches and their grounds must be evicted.

Emanuel Church, which is affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, is among the targeted buildings. Rev Alain Toledano said four other churches are also at risk.

"There is a witch hunt against churches in Cuba at this time, mainly against the churches of apostolic and prophetic ministry," Toledano told CSW.

"The communists have intensified in their hatred and persecution of the church following the Pope's visit to Cuba and the re-establishment of relations with the United States. I request constant intercession on behalf of the churches in Cuba.

"In our case, this would be the second time that the racist communists have attempted to evict us from our house, throw us out on the street and demolish our temple, only now their diabolical hatred and fury is directed at other congregations too."

Toledano and his congregation attempted to block the government's edict by holding a 'sleep-in' two weeks ago. The pastor says he and his wife privately own the church, and have been granted official approval for all the construction work carried out on the property.

According to CSW, the latest government order is part of an ongoing crackdown against churches in Cuba, and has accused it of targeting church properties "to tighten its control over the activities and membership of religious groups and thus eliminate the potential for any social unrest."

Legislation that came into force in January of this year has been used by the government to seize properties belonging to religious organisations and force them into paying vast sums of money, CSW says.

An annual report into religious freedom in Cuba released in May branded a rise in violations of religious liberty in the country "troubling". Every Sunday scores of men and women are violently arrested and temporarily imprisoned to stop them attending Mass, and foreign students involved in religious activities have been expelled and had their visas taken away.

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said, "We continue to call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment and persecution of religious groups across Cuba. The land grabs and attempts to manipulate religious organisations, linked to efforts to confiscate church properties, must end. It is clear that freedom of religion or belief has seriously deteriorated in Cuba over the course of the year since Legal Decree 322 came into force in January.

"We urge the European Union, the United States and other members of the international community to raise concerns about this law and its impact on freedom of religion or belief with the Cuban government as a matter of urgency, as well as the cases of these churches, which are currently under threat."