Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) today expressed grave concern regarding reports that Cuban security agents entered a church by force on Tuesday evening and proceeded to severely beat around eighteen human rights activists who were attending Mass.
According to reports from Cuba, Cuban security agents stormed the Santa Teresita de Niño Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Santiago, which is located on the eastern tip of the country. After kicking in the door, the agents released tear gas into the church. They then surrounded the group of human rights activists before beating and arresting them. A number of women and a disabled man were among the victims.
Immediately prior to the church service, the group had gathered to protest at the imprisonment of three other pro-democracy activists, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Eliécer Consuegra Rivas and Gerardo Sánchez Ortega. Jaqueline Echevarria, the wife of Gerardo Sanchez Ortega, had held a fast and prayer vigil at her home, before marching with the other activists from the Santiago Cathedral to the Santa Teresita del Niño Jesus Church. According to the Cuban human rights organisation, Directorio, Ms Echevarria explained to the police that she believed it to be her right and duty to go to church to pray for her husband.
Directorio also reports that the police responded with insults when the parish priest, Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez, questioned their actions. One activist was released as she had recently given birth, but the other seventeen remain in prison.
CSW’s Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert, said: “We are deeply disturbed by the actions of the Cuban authorities in Santiago. The physical attacks on human rights activists, who were peacefully exercising their right to worship, within the sanctity of the church itself sets an alarming precedent. Reports out of Cuba over the past eighteen months indicate that religious liberty is deteriorating significantly. We call on the Cuban authorities to ensure that their security agents uphold fundamental religious rights and to immediately release the seventeen men and women who were arrested while attending Mass.”