RLPB 511. Cuba: Persecution Escalates
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 511 | 17 Jul 2019
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CUBA: PERSECUTION ESCALATES
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Cuba maintains a one-party system with no independent judiciary. The ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) exerts tight control over all religious activity. All churches are required by law to register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), a process which is both arbitrary and political. Registered churches — which are mostly Catholic and members of the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) — are tightly controlled through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which works out of the MoJ. The ORA is authorised to supervise gatherings, restrict activities and limit the number of attenders. The mostly Protestant and evangelical churches that are not registered and are not members of CIC, suffer harassment, intimidation and persecution. While current repression and persecution is nothing like the persecution suffered during the Cold War era, persecution has escalated markedly since the February 2019 constitutional referendum which saw evangelicals deemed ‘counter-revolutionaries’ [see RLPB 491 (27 Feb)].
On the weekend of 13-14 July, the Reverend Alayn Toledano Valiente, a leader in the Apostolic Movement, the Reverend Alida Leon Baiz, President of the Evangelical League of Cuba, and the Reverend Moises de Prada, Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, were prevented from boarding flights to the US where they were to attend the US State Department’s second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Two weeks earlier, the Reverend Dariel Llanes, President of the Western Baptist Convention of Cuba, learned that he would not be permitted to travel when authorities refused to renew his passport. Rev. Alida Baiz wondered how the pastors could be arbitrarily denied their right to freedom of movement when the law only withholds that right from criminals and those deemed a threat to national security. It seems Cuban Counterintelligence had issued travel restrictions against the pastors, who are all founding members of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba (AIEC), established in the wake of the constitutional referendum.
Grave concerns are held for independent journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre. An active member of the Apostolic Movement (a network of unregistered charismatic Christian churches), Fernandez Izaguirre had been working to document religious persecution and violations of religious freedom. Fernandez Izaguirre, who is married with an infant daughter, was arbitrarily arrested on 12 July; his condition and whereabouts are unknown and his mobile phone appears to have been disconnected. Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a statement saying, ‘CSW holds the Cuban government responsible for the well-being of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre. Violations of freedom of religion or belief have increased in Cuba over the past six months and Ricardo has dedicated himself to travelling across the country, often at great personal sacrifice, sleeping in bus stations and skipping meals, to document these cases and to offer solidarity to the victims. We call on the authorities to release him immediately.’
Pastor Ramon Rigal of the Church of God in Cuba and his wife, Ayda Exposito, were arrested on 21 February for home-schooling their children, Ruth (13) and Daniel (9), with the support of a Christian college in Guatemala. The couple chose to home-school their children so as to remove them from the bullying and mandatory atheism they were forced to endure in Cuba’s state-run system [see RLPB 499 (24 April)]. On 23 June a Cuban court sentenced Pastor Rigal to two years in prison and his wife Ayda to 18 months for ‘acting against the normal development of a minor’. The children are now in the care of their grandparents. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, an independent lawyer who wanted to observe the trial, was detained and severely beaten, leaving all the fingers on his right hand broken. According to the USCIRF, two other fathers were recently detained for enrolling their children in the same education programme the Rigal family was using.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* supply all Cuban Christians with wisdom, grace and faith as persecution escalates; may Christ redeem all suffering to unify and sanctify his precious Church in Cuba.
* intervene for investigative journalist and religious liberty advocate Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre, who has been arrested and essentially ‘disappeared’; may the Spirit of the Christ be powerfully present to sustain and protect him wherever he is; may the Lord’s justice prevail.
* intervene for Pastor Ramon Rigal and his wife, Ayda Exposito, as they serve time in prison for nothing more than home-schooling their own children; may they have peace and may the Lord’s justice prevail.
* continue to build his Church in Cuba; may there be reformation and revival and a breakthrough that changes Cuba forever.
He [‘my Servant’, the Lord Jesus Christ] will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:4 ESV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
PERSECUTION ESCALATES IN CUBA
Cuba is a Communist Party-ruled state where all religion is tightly controlled. Churches must register with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ); only churches that are pro-government are approved. Even then, the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) supervises gatherings and dictates terms. Unregistered churches — mostly Protestant/Evangelical — are illegal. Persecution has escalated markedly since the February referendum which saw evangelicals deemed ‘counter-revolutionary’. On 23 June Pastor Rigal and his wife Ayda were sentenced to two years and 18 months respectively for home-schooling their two children. On 12 July Christian journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre was arrested and ‘disappeared’ while documenting the escalating religious persecution. On 13-14 July officials prevented evangelical leaders from travelling to the US to attend a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom meeting. Please pray for Cuba and its Christians.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).