Smoky Mountains Sunrise

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Urgent Request from Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Dear Friends,

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Cuba’s “Black Spring” when 75 civil society activists, including independent journalists, human rights defenders, pro-democracy activists, and independent librarians were arrested. Today, human rights groups inside Cuba put the total number of prisoners of conscience at around 230. Many of these men and women are Christians.

CSW is particularly concerned by reports that prison authorities consistently violate the religious rights of political prisoners across the country. Political prisoners and their families have reported the repeated confiscation of bibles and other religious literature, the denial of the right to receive visits from a pastor or priest, and a refusal to allow Christian prisoners to meet together for prayer, worship or study, even in the presence of a member of the clergy. This is in violation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the United Nations in 1955, which guarantees all of the above rights. The fact that these violations are repeatedly reported as occurring in prisons across the country also indicates that this is not a matter of local prison authorities abusing the rights of their prisoners, but a general policy instigated at government levels.

Interestingly, according to information received by CSW, prisoners who do not consider themselves to be religious report that they are able to exercise most of the rights listed above. This suggests that prison authorities recognise the importance of their faith to the Christian prisoners and that they are specifically targeting their faith in an effort to break them down psychologically.

For Christian prisoners, their faith is often the one thing they can cling to in an otherwise hopeless situation. Many former prisoners have told CSW how their faith encouraged and strengthened them in the darkest of moments. It is also vital for their families, as we were reminded by Elsa Gonzalez, the wife of political prisoner, Victor Roland Arroyo, who said,. “Faith is what has made all of this possible. If it were not for my faith in God and the strength He gives me, I would not have been able to endure any of this. Faith is also of the utmost importance for Victor,”

The following represent just a few of these cases:

• Dr Oscar Elias Biscet is a human rights defender who is serving a 25-year sentence. He had already served a three-year sentence and was free for less than a month between his release and his second detention. He is a devout Christian and has frequently had his Bible confiscated and has been arbitrarily denied the right to meet with a priest. He is in very bad health.

• Alfredo Rodolfo Dominguez Batista is a member of the Christian Liberation Movement, a pro-democracy organisation, and is serving a 14-year sentence. His Bible and other religious books were confiscated last summer and they have not been returned to him. He has been visited by a priest in the past but he and his wife have had to ask for this repeatedly, the last time they were refused. Generally, Alfredo has been allowed to meet a priest only once every four or five months. The priest also visits other prisoners but cannot hold services. According to his wife, Melba, although the prisoners cannot meet together for worship, Alfredo meets with them individually to share his faith.

• Normando Hernandez Gonzalez is 38-years old, an independent journalist, serving a 25-year sentence. He is in extremely poor health and Costa Rica has offered to grant him a visa if the Cuban government will release him for humanitarian reasons but thus far this offer has been refused. According to his wife, Yarai Amparo, he is a very strong believer and he has been allowed to keep his Bible but he cannot receive the visit of a priest and is kept in isolation, away from the other prisoners.

• Victor Rolando Arroyo is an independent journalist and a devout Christian. His prison sentence, 26 years, is one of the longest stemming from the 2003 crackdown. He is allowed to keep his Bible but the prison officials confiscated the other religious books brought by his wife for him. He is allowed a visit every three months from a priest chosen by the government. He is not allowed any type of spiritual fellowship with other prisoners and they do not allow the priest to hold a group mass for the prisoners to attend.

• Alexander Aguilar Sosa is serving a six-year sentence for “disrespect.” On January 22, 2008, a Cuban human rights organisation reported that the prison authorities at the Agüica Prison in Matanzas would not allow him to meet with other prisoners to pray or read the Bible. Alexander told the group that the prison “Chief of Interior Order,” a man named “Aramis”, had broken up the small worship service that he was celebrating on a regular basis with other prisoners.

• Dr Jose Luis Garcia Paneque is a medical doctor and independent journalist serving a 24-year sentence. His wife, Yamile told CSW that the doctor takes great comfort from his Bible which he has been allowed to keep with him in prison and which he reads every day. For some time, the prison authorities refused to allow him to meet with a priest, but have now changed the policy and are allowing a meeting once every two months. He is not allowed to meet with other prisoners for worship and prayer. He is in extremely poor health.


Please remember these men and their families in your prayers. Pray that their religious rights will be respected and that God will give them strength and comfort.


Please also consider writing to the Cuban embassy in London (address below) to ask that the religious rights of all prisoners, regardless of the reason for their imprisonment, be respected in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. In your letter you may mention these prisoners by name but please refrain from criticising the Cuban political system or Fidel or Raul Castro.

His Excellency Rene Mujica Cantelar
Embassy of the Republic of Cuba167 High Holborn
WC1V 6BA, Fax: (020) 7836 2602

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