Cuba: 'Unprecedented' crackdown on churches as religious persecution spikes

An "unprecedented" crackdown on churches is ongoing in Cuba according to a report released today by religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

There was a tenfold increase in the number of religious freedom violations in Cuba last year, according to the charity, with 2,300 separate incidents recorded in 2015 alone, compared to 220 in 2014.

This spike was fuelled by government aggression, the report said, with 2,000 Assemblies of God churches declared illegal and over 100 demolished.

Over one hundred churches in Cuba were demolished in 2015 after the government declared 2,000 Assemblies of God churches illegalCSW

The report also said that the Cuban government's relationship with religious authorities has become "consistently antagonistic", and described "brutal and public tactics" employed to restrict freedom of religion and belief.

"Week after week, state security agents physically and violently dragged scores of women away from Sunday morning services," the report reads. "Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services.

"The government continued to employ a strategy of frequent, temporary arbitrary detention to target those it views as political dissidents.

"This tactic is also applied to religious leaders who are viewed as problematic, for whatever reason, by the authorities... for the first time in four years a church leader was sentenced to and served six months in prison for holding unauthorised religious services."

After visits from both Pope Francis and US President Barack Obama, the previously isolated island is becoming increasingly open. Analysis by CSW suggests the Cuban government is trying eliminate potential social upheaval by cracking down on any groups calling for social and political change.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW's chief executive, insisted the charity did not use the word "unprecendeted" lightly.

"It is clear that despite promises of reform, the government is determined to maintain a tight grip on civil society, including churches," he said in a statement.

"We commend the courage of religious groups who have spoken out publicly to denounce these violations and to call for the right to freedom of religion or belief to be upheld.

"We urge the international community to stand with them and to hold Cuba to account for these human rights violations."