By BosNewsLife Americas Service
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– Cuba’s secret service has detained several pastors of a thriving Protestant network of unofficial churches and told them to halt their activities, BosNewsLife learned Thursday, May 5.
An advocacy group investigating the case, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said the church leaders of the Apostolic Movement were interrogated while in custody over the weekend.
Among the first to be detained Saturday, April 30, were Pastors Benito Rodríguez and Bárbara Guzmán who CSW claimed “were picked up by a group of high ranking state security agents and communist party officials.”
They were taken to Palma Street Police Station in the central city of Camaguey where they were held for two hours, CSW told BosNewsLife. “During their detention the two reported being interrogated and put under heavy pressure to cease holding church services in their home.”
Soon after on Sunday, May 1, a church service led by the two pastors was interrupted by an official of the Office of Religious Affairs in the Provincial Ministry of Justice who summoned Rodríguez and Guzmán to proof their home ownership at the Ministry of Justice by May 6, Christians said. CSW suggested that the demand was remarkable as for instance “Pastor Rodríguez, 45, has lived in the house for his entire life.”
Additionally, Pastor Bernardo de Quesada Salomón was detained over the weekend after leaving his house at around 12:45pm local time, CSW added. He was taken to a provincial detention center where he was allegedly subjected to heavy pressure and threats “in an effort to push him to leave his pastoral work,” the advocacy group said.
Another leader in the Apostolic Movement, Pastor Omar Gude Perez, who serves a six-and-a-half year prison sentence under conditional liberty, reportedly said that pressure on the network of churches has intensified.
“This is just one of the many occasions on which they have been detained, fined, or threatened by the Castro regime which has not altered in the least its policy of denial of religious liberty to and aggression towards the Apostolic Movement,” CSW quoted him as saying.
In published remarks, Pastor Gude Perez also said that a number of pastors, including his wife Kenia Denis and Mario Alvarez, a church leader based in the city of San José de las Lajas, had recently been denied permission to leave the country to attend religious conferences abroad.
“They believe that this is due to the fact that they continue to share information about religious liberty violations with international human rights groups and media,” CSW explained.
CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said his organization remains “deeply concerned at the arbitrary detention and intimidation of Pastors Rodríguez, Guzmán and de Quesada and the more generalized hostility toward churches affiliated with the Apostolic Movement on the part of the government.”
He said that CSW has urged the Cuban government “to cease its harassment of these men and women and to allow these churches to register and operate freely.”
Cuban authorities have made clear that Christians are free to worship within the state-backed churches but as in other Communist-run nations, many believers prefer to gather outside government control, church groups say.
Since 1959 Cuba has been a one-party state led by Fidel Castro and – since February 2008 – by his anointed successor, younger brother Raul.