By BosNewsLife Americas Service
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– A Christian advocacy group urged Cuba on Wednesday to release prominent rights activist Jose Daniel Ferrer, a devoted Catholic, who went missing this week in the Communist island nation.
Ferrer, known for documenting religious rights abuses, disappeared in the eastern city of Holguín on Monday, July 30, shortly after he was detained, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
There was no immediate comment from Cuban officials.
The arrest of 41 year-old Ferrer, who is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba group, comes at a time when CSW claims to have documented some 100 religious rights abuses this year alone.
“This total does not include the hundreds of dissidents who were rounded up and detained across the island to prevent them from attending the activities surrounding the Pope’s visit in March,” the advocacy group added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Ferrer, who is based in eastern Cuba, was actively documenting and denouncing cases of men and women who he said were forcibly prevented by state security officials from participating in church services and other religious activities.
Ferrer was among 75 political prisoners who were detained during what became known as the 2003 ‘Black Spring’ crackdown on dissent. He was part of a small group who agreed to be released from prison on condition that he is allowed to stay in Cuba.
CSW, which has been closely following the Ferrer case, told BosNewsLife in a statement that it has observed “a sharp decline in religious freedom” on the island since the beginning of this year.
“Catholic and protestant churches of all denominations have reported religious freedom violations, the majority related to the refusal of churches to bow to government demands to expel certain individuals from their congregations,” the group noted.
It said that the increased repression of churches has taken place while “the government attempts to promote an image of respect for religious freedom abroad.”
The country is currently run by Raul Castro, the world’s longest-serving defense minister, who took over as president in February 2008, succeeding his ailing brother Fidel, who had been in power for five decades.
While he eased some restrictions on personal freedoms by lifting bans on mobile phones and home computers for non-dissidents, he has insisted that Cuba’s Communist system remains non-negotiable, adding to concerns among devoted Christians and political activists who are viewed as threatening the government’s atheistic power base.