By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
GUANTANAMO PROVINCE, CUBA (ANS – August 4, 2017) — Pastor Ramon Rigal, of the Church of God in Cuba, was informed by government officials in Guantanamo Province on July 31st that he is no longer permitted to work as a church leader. Instead, the pastor, who is being punished for deciding to home-school his children, has been assigned a new job checking for mosquitoes in the water supply of local houses.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife decided to home-school their children because they felt that state school teaching emphasized a Marxist-Leninist atheist ideology which conflicted with their Christian faith. Pastor Rigal’s daughter had also reported being bullied at school and punched in the stomach by another student.
On April 25th, Pastor Rigal was sentenced to one year in a correctional facility, while his wife was sentenced to one year of house arrest. However, the State reduced the pastor’s sentence to house arrest on 6 July on the provision that his children return to state school in September. He has since been told that he cannot work as a pastor.
Pastor Ramon Rigal’s case is one of several brought to the attention of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in recent months, in which family members of church leaders and activists are singled out for harassment and discrimination by the authorities. This is a longstanding tactic of the government to ratchet up the pressure on church leaders and activists who are considered a “problem”. Further details can be found in CSW’s new report on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba. (http://www.csw.org.uk/2017/02/06/news/3452/article.htm)
CSW’s Senior Advocacy Officer for the Americas, Anna Lee Stangl, said, “The punishment meted out to Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife is unwarranted and places the family in undue hardship. We call on the Cuban authorities to repeal the sentences against the pastor and his wife, and to allow him to continue his work as a church leader.”
According to CSW’s report, the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016 failed to lead to any significant improvements to FoRB in Cuba; instead, the arbitrary detention, harassment, restriction and surveillance of religious leaders and adherents has continued throughout the first half of 2017, as has the confiscation of church properties. Christians across a wide range of denominations have been affected, including members of the Roman Catholic Church, the Apostolic Movement, the East and West Baptist Conventions, the Evangelical League and Assemblies of God.
In one improvement, in May 2017, the head of the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination received verbal assurances from government officials that the 2,000 churches which were declared illegal in 2015 will no longer be confiscated. While CSW is tentatively considering this to be a positive development, AoG leaders pointed out that it is dependent on implementation and should be closely monitored.
To date in 2017, CSW has recorded 185 separate violations of FoRB in Cuba, with many of these cases involving large numbers of victims. This is markedly fewer than the numbers recorded in 2015 and 2016, given that the 2,000 Assemblies of God churches are reportedly no longer at risk of confiscation. However, should violations continue to be recorded at a similar rate over the next five months, 2017 will represent the third highest number of FoRB violations recorded in any year of the current decade.
One pastor told CSW that the church is currently experiencing “the most savage of witch hunts” since the revolution. CSW has noted that attacks on FoRB defenders have increased both in number and severity. For example, Felix Yuniel Llerena Lopez , who is affiliated with the Patmos Institute, which promotes inter-religious dialogue and FoRB in Cuba, has had trumped-up criminal charges brought against him and is no longer allowed to travel outside his village. Llerena Lopez was expelled from university in May after returning from a visit to Washington, DC where he raised FoRB concerns with US Congressional staffers, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and the State Department.
Throughout 2017, state security and political police have also continued to arrest members of the Ladies in White movement in order to prevent them from attending Sunday Mass. These arrests are often violent, and women are regularly threatened and fined. The report notes several arrests of particular concern, such as that of Daisy Artilles del Sol, a 52-year-old woman with breast cancer, who was violently arrested on July 9th and not released for four days.
“It should alarm the international community that despite promises of greater freedom for the Cuban people as the country develops its relationships with the US and EU, that the repression of religious communities continues unabated. We continue to call for reforms to the Office of Religious Affairs, which is the main perpetrator of religious freedom violations, and for the authorities to cease targeting church leaders, activists and their families simply for speaking up about the injustices faced by their fellow citizens. Human rights, and particularly religious freedom, must remain a priority in any dialogues between the US, EU and the Cuban government,’’ Anna Lee Stangl added.
Note: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Senior Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0) 20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email email@example.com or visit www.csw.org.uk.
Note to Editors: Click here http://www.csw.org.uk/2017/02/06/news/3452/article.htm to read CSW’s new report on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Cuba.
Photo captions: 1) Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife. 2) Protest on behalf of pastor and his wife. 3) Church service in Cuba. 4) Norma and Dan Wooding at a church in Cuba before Dan was banned from the country.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books and has two US-based TV programs and also a weekly radio show. Dan is at present banned by the Cuban government for his reporting activities there, and his most recent honor was a top humanitarian award at a film festival in Beverly Hills, California, for his long-standing reporting on persecuted Christians around the world.
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