Cuban pastor imprisoned without charge, wife says for holding church services

The family of a Cuban pastor is calling for his release from prison.

Pastor Jesus Noel Carballeda, his wife Teresa Castillo Medina and their son.

Rev Jesús Noel Carballeda (44), pastor of an unregistered church in Havana, has been held for a month without charge in Valle Grande prison in San Antonio de los Baños, Havana Province.

Carballeda's wife, Teresa Castillo Medina, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the pastor was imprisoned five years ago for four months after militant communist neighbours filed legal complaints about the church services they held in their home in Marianao, Havana.

Following his imprisonment, he was put on probation and made to check in with the authorities on a regular basis. They were barred from holding church services in their home, but Carballeda continued to lead his church, holding services in parks, rented halls and other private homes. His wife believes this is the reason behind his re-arrest.

His church is linked to the Apostolic Movement, a fast growing network of Protestant churches, which the Cuban government has refused to register. Because the religious group is unregistered, all of the affiliated church's activities are technically illegal and they are unable to apply for permits for a designated place of worship. Medina told CSW: "We do not want to bother anyone. We just need a place to worship. We are forced to meet in the open air, in parks or rented rooms as [the authorities] will not give us legal recognition."

According to CSW, Carballeda's detention is part of a wider crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba during the last few years. Unregistered religious groups have been a particular target of government repression, with religious leaders reporting harassment, fines and threats of confiscation or destruction of property.

CSW's chief operating officer, Andy Dipper, called on the Cuban authorities to release Carballeda and to clarify the reasons for his arrest and imprisonment. "We are concerned that a church leader could be arrested and held for an entire month without charge, and urge the European Union and the United States to raise his case in their ongoing dialogues with the Cuban government," he said.

"We continue to call on the Cuban government to bring legal matters related to religious activities and groups under regular legal mechanisms and remove the Office of Religious Affairs from its position of authority over all religious groups and activities. We urge the government to cease its harassment of all religious groups, registered and unregistered, and to allow religious groups who wish to register and to operate legally to do so."