Sharp increase in religious freedom violations in Cuba

2012 saw a dramatic increase in violations of religious freedoms in Cuba, says Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The Cuban government has reportedly cracked down on religious organisations and believers in the last year.

CSW documented 120 reported cases of religious freedom in 2012, up from a total of 30 in 2011.

The number does not include those arrested and detained during Pope Benedict XVI's visit last March - estimated at 200.

Church leaders across Cuba reported ongoing violations in the final weeks of December.

An unregistered Protestant church affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in Camaguey was threatened with demolition on 29 December. The following day, nine women affiliated with the Ladies in White movement in Holguin were arrested in the early hours of the morning and held in prison until Sunday morning Mass had ended.

The crackdown has affected mainly Roman Catholic churches, but other denominations have also been hit.

Government officials refused to register some groups, including the fast-growing Protestant network the "Apostolic Movement".

Pentecostal pastor, Reutilio Columbie, was badly beaten in Moa early in the year, and suffered permanent brain damage as a result. He believes local Communist Party officials were behind the attack, which has yet to be investigated.

CSW is calling on the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, to ensure that significant improvements are made in upholding religious freedom in 2013.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: "We are deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration in religious freedom over the past year in Cuba.

"Despite promises of privileges to some religious groups, Sunday after Sunday the government continues to violate the most basic of rights: the right to freely participate in religious services and form part of a religious community without interference.

"Unregistered religious groups and registered groups that have resisted government pressure have come under intense pressure, been subjected to harassment and in the worst cases come under physical attack or seen their buildings confiscated.

"The Cuban government's claims of reform and respect for human rights cannot be taken seriously unless these violations are addressed and real protections for religious freedom for all put in place. We urge Raul Castro to make this a priority of the government in 2013."