APPG FoRB Statement on the Targeting of Religious Leaders by the Cuban Government Following Nationwide July Protests

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) condemns the Cuban Government’s ongoing targeting of religious leaders following spontaneous protests on 11 July 2021. APPG FoRB Members call on the Foreign Secretary to raise this issue with the Cuban Government at the highest levels.

Spontaneous nationwide protests swept across Cuba on 11 July, thought to be in response to Cuba’s ongoing and severe economic crisis and a record surge in COVID-19 cases, expanding to criticisms of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP)’s decades-long hold on power, crackdown on independent civil society including human rights and pro-democracy movements, and the government’s poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government responded by suppressing the protests. Reports emerged of violence against protesters, including one incident in which an Associated Press photographer was beaten by members of the police and Cuban State Security. One protester was also allegedly shot in the stomach.

 Religious leaders who participated in the peaceful protests have been targeted by the Government. Pastors Yéremi Blanco Ràmirez and Yarian Sierra Madrigal were detained in Matanzas, imprisoned incommunicado for two weeks, then released and fined. In October, they were forced to sign a legal document justifying their arrest and imprisonment in the case of potential future crimes, including participating in unauthorised protests or doing anything interpreted as critical of the communist system. Roman Catholic Priest Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, was beaten and detained incommunicado during the 11 July protests in Camagüey. He was released the following day but is under an official travel ban and has since been targeted with mob-led verbal attacks and vandalism of his parish home.

APPG FoRB Members are particularly concerned by the treatment of Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, who has been detained for months following his arrest by Cuban State Security and paramilitary officers while taking part in a peaceful protest in Palma Soriano on 11 July. He was held incommunicado in Versalles (a State Security Facility in the city of Santiago de Cuba) until August, when he was transferred to the Boniato Maximum Security Prison located outside Santiago de Cuba.

Pastor Rosales Fajardo remains in detention without trial and is facing trumped up criminal charges for ‘disrespect’, ‘public disorder’, ‘criminal incitement’ and ‘assault’. Seven attempts to file for habeas corpus have been denied. On 22 October, his wife was informed that the Government is seeking to impose a 10-year prison sentence for Reverend Rosales Fajardo who, like many Cuban citizens that day, was simply exercising his human right to freedom of assembly by taking part in widespread peaceful protests.

The APPG calls on the UK Government to raise human rights abuses with the Cuban Government, in particular the rights to freedom of assembly, expression, and religion or belief. We also call on the UK Government to publicly raise the case of Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, and to send an observer from the British Embassy in Cuba to his trial once a date is set.