Churches in Cuba are increasingly being targeted by the government and forced to pay huge sums of money, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has warned.
An annual report into religious freedom in Cuba released last month 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. Additionally, CSW has accused the Cuban government 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.
A national leader of the Apostolic Movement in Cuba, Rev Yiorvis Bravo, had his church confiscated in 2013. Housing Ministry Officials decreed that he could only continue to use the building if he paid a fee of US $300 a month – 15 times the average annual salary in Cuba. Bravo, who maintains he is the legal owner of the property, has thus far refused to pay the sum, and has now been banned from travelling outside of the country.
He was due to visit Peru for a Leadership course on June 29, but received a letter the day beforehand stating that he now not allowed to leave Cuba because of his 'debts'.
Chief executive of CSW Mervyn Thomas said Bravo's situation is a "clear demonstration that the strategy behind these expropriations is to exert more control over religious leaders and bodies of faith."
"We have repeatedly raised concerns about the growing number of churches, registered and unregistered, which have been informed of the arbitrary expropriations of their properties by the government in recent months," Thomas said.
"We continue to condemn the illegal expropriations of church properties and call on the Cuban government to rescind these orders of confiscation immediately. Furthermore, we call on the Cuban authorities to lift any restrictions on travel for Reverend Bravo without delay."