The religious rights of prisoners of conscience are systematically violated in Cuban prisons, according to a new report released this week by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The report was released on the fifth anniversary of a massive human rights crackdown, now referred to as Cuba’s Black Spring, when 75 members of Cuban civil society, including human right defenders, independent librarians, pro-democracy activists and independent journalists, were arrested, subjected to summary trials, and handed down lengthy prison sentences.
CSW has interviewed the families of prisoners and former prisoners over the last eight months. According to the research, prison authorities regularly deny political prisoners the right to religious literature including Bibles, the right to meet with a pastor or priest, and the right to meet together with other prisoners for religious study, prayer or worship.
The report highlights individual cases, including that of Alfredo Rodolfo Dominguez Batista who is serving a 14-year sentence in the Holguín Provincial Prison. According to Dominguez Batista’s wife, his Bible and all religious materials were confiscated in the summer of 2007 and have yet to be returned.
He has also had to repeatedly request access to a priest, a right which has only been granted every four to six months and most recently was denied outright. Another prisoner of conscience, Normando Hernández González has been denied the right to pastoral visits altogether.
The interviews indicate that similar abuses take place on a regular basis in high security prisons across the island, suggesting that it is state policy to psychologically break down political prisoners.
The practice of denying the basic religious rights of prisoners of conscience is in direct contravention of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which specifies that the religious rights of all prisoners must be protected.
Tina Lambert, Advocacy Director at CSW, said: “While we firmly believe that these prisoners should be released immediately, in the interim we call on the Cuban authorities to ensure that all prison authorities are trained in and are implementing the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
“It is unacceptable that the Cuban authorities should seek to use the religious beliefs of these men and women to attempt to manipulate them in such a cynical way.”
Religious freedom violations in Cuban prisons 01/03/2008
The Cuban government systematically violates the religious rights of political prisoners, in contravention of the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, by arbitrarily denying them access to clergy, confiscating bibles and other religious literature and materials (including rosaries), and prohibiting them from attending religious services. These violations are reported repeatedly and consistently as occurring in high security prisons across the country indicating that they are not simply a result of decisions made by local prison authorities, but rather state policy instigated at the highest levels.
Interestingly, according to research based on interviews with former political prisoners and the families of current political prisoners, these policies appear to be aimed specifically at political prisoners who are openly Christian (both Catholic and Protestant) and have requested access to religious literature, visits from a member of the clergy, and/or to meet with other prisoners for worship, study or prayer. Political prisoners, who do not consider themselves to be particularly religious, have reported that they are free to keep Bibles and other religious materials. In addition, according to reports from religious leaders inside Cuba, common prisoners are allowed to keep bibles and other religious literature, can receive visits from the clergy, and have been permitted to meet with other prisoners for study, worship and prayer. This suggests that these policies are specifically directed at Christian political prisoners, particularly those whose faith has played a significant role in their human rights and/or pro-democracy activity, and are likely part of a general policy of applying pressure on all political prisoners in an effort to punish them and to break them down psychologically.
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