By Joseph DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– A Cuban pastor who was imprisoned and then granted asylum by the United States has been denied permission to leave Cuba, BosNewsLife learned Monday, August 1.
Omar Gude Perez was granted conditional liberty by Cuba earlier this year after serving three years of a six and a half year sentence. He is so far the second high-profile protestant pastor known to have been be granted asylum in the U.S. this year.
As the leader of a growing network of independent churches in Cuba, Perez was convicted during a summary trial on what his supporters described as “trumped-up” charges of “falsification of documents” amid accusations that he had “illegally” taken his stepfather’s surname.
However, while determining the conditions of his release, official records revealed that Perez’s legal surname was indeed Gude Perez, contradicting the court ruling that led to his conviction, Christian trial observers said.
Perez, who was imprisoned in May 2008, received news that he and his family were granted asylum on July 18, but two days later, Cuban emigration officials in Camaguey informed them that they will not be issued exit visas. Cuban officials reportedly said Perez still needed to serve the remainder of his sentence, forcing them all to remain in Cuba until 2014.
During this time, as part of the terms of his conditional liberty, Perez is prohibited from any pastoral ministry while his movements are severely restricted, Christians said.
“We were relieved to hear that the Gude family has been granted asylum, but strongly condemn the Cuban government’s petty decision to deny Pastor Gude and his family the right to leave the country,” said Andrew Johnston, the advocacy director of religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“Their decision to leave the country was reluctantly made after years of intense persecution on the part of the authorities. Unless the Cuban government is prepared to cease its persecution of the family and to allow them to work as pastors openly and without restrictions, they must afford them the same right they have granted so many others and allow them to go into exile,” Johnston added.
CHURCH OF GOD
Pastor Carlos Lamelas, a denominational leader and pastor from the Church of God denomination, and his family werealso granted asylum by the US and left the country on July 7.
Lamelas spent four months in prison in 2006 and after his release was prohibited from legal employment, including work as a pastor, according to rights activists.
The reported crackdown on at least some Christian leaders has been linked to concerns within the Communist government about the spread of independent Christian groups in the country.
Last month, nearly two dozen Christians were briefly detained and prevented from attending a church service in Cuba which was held in support of pastor Pastor Yordi Toranzo who was removed from his post amid government pressure.
It comes as a setback for evangelical Christians whose hopes were boosted after Cuba released this year the last of 75 dissidents, including Christians, who were detained in the 2003 crackdown.
The move following a ground-breaking deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church in which Cuba’s President Raul Castro agreed to free the remaining 52 inmates.
The Cuban government has denied it as ever hold political prisoners and considers dissidents as “mercenaries financed by the U.S.”to destabilize the government” on the island. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).