Cuban pastor released after 6 months behind bars

Cuban President Raul Castro's Office of Religious Affairs has authority over all religious groups and activities, restricting the activity of churches they refuse to register

A Cuban pastor has been released after six months in prison without trial.

Rev Jesús Noel Carballeda, 45, from Havana was being held in Valle Grande prison in San Antonio de los Baños for holding unauthorised religious services. He was released on 31 August.

Carballeda's church is linked to the Apostolic Movement, a fast growing network of protestant churches which the Cuban government has refused to register. Because of this status, all of the movement's activities are technically illegal and they can't apply for permits for a designated place of worship.

"We do not want to bother anyone," Carballeda's wife said in March. "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."

Carballeda was previously imprisoned in 2000 for four months after militant communist neighbours filed legal complaints about church services he held in his family home.

He was then put on probation and made to regularly check in with the authorities. While he was barred from holding any religious activity in his house he continued to lead the church, holding services elsewhere.

Carballeda's detention is part of a larger crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba over the past few years, according to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

CSW documented 220 separate cases of religious freedom violations in 2014, up from 185 in 2013 and 120 in 2012.

"While we welcome the release of Rev Jesús Noel Carballeda, we note that he was only released after serving a full six-month sentence for the supposed crime of holding unauthorised peaceful religious services," said CSW's special ambassador Stuart Windsor.

"As Cuba prepares for the visit of the Pope this month, we continue to call on the Cuban government to bring legal matters related to religious activities and groups under regular legal mechanisms.

"We urge the government to cease its harassment of all religious groups, both registered and unregistered, and to allow religious groups who wish to register and to operate legally to do so."