Cuba using intimidation tactics against church leaders - report

Bishops chat before a mass at Havana Cathedral in Cuba.Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Cuban Christians are facing growing challenges as a result of ongoing religious freedom violations by the government, a new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide warns. 

The report accuses the Cuban government of cracking down on church leaders who have criticised the draft constitution for placing restrictions on religious freedom. 

CSW said individual religious leaders, as well as members of their families and churches have faced increased harassment and threats after calling for stronger protections of religious freedom in the constitution. 

A public consultation is currently being held on the constitution, with a vote due in February next year. Proposed changes include the removal of freedom of conscience protections. 

CSW said that although religious freedom had been steadily declining in Cuba over the last 10 years, it has deteriorated rapidly since 2015, with over 1,000 churches being declared illegal in the last few years.  The authorities have also demolished some churches and detained activists. 

In the past year, two registered churches, one in Santiago and the other in Havana, have been threatened with demolition.  There are also reports that government informants have been infiltrating religious groups to spy on their activities. 

Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive, said the situation in Cuba was 'highly concerning'.

'The fact that the currently proposed changes to the Cuban constitution are set to reduce protections for religious freedom is unacceptable,' he said.

'CSW calls on the international community to push Cuba to ensure that its new constitution, including provisions on thought, conscience and religion, is fully in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.'

The report was issued in the same week that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on the Cuban govenrment to cease harassment of religious leaders and strengthen religious freedom language in new constitution. 

USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga said in a statement: 'The integrity of this historic process is in serious question if religious leaders are being ignored, then pressured to publicly support a new constitution that fails to protect their rights.'

She added: 'We urge the Cuban government to immediately cease all intimidation tactics and to fully consider the proposals put forth by religious organizations to ensure freedom of religion and conscience for Cubans of all faiths or none.'