Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) denounced the detention of religious leaders during nationwide protests in Cuba, the largest demonstrations in decades.
“Cuban authorities are detaining religious leaders merely for peacefully protesting and calling for greater respect for human rights,” said USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr. “Principal among human rights concerns in Cuba are the ongoing and systematic violations of religious freedom, which include the persistent intimidation and harassment of religious leaders. USCIRF urges the United States to impose targeted sanctions on Cuban government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.”
In response to calls for greater freedom and relief from Cuba’s economic and COVID-19 crises, authorities increased their violent crackdown on demonstrators. Those reported as detained include Yeremi Blanco and Yarian Sierra, two pastors from the Berean Baptist Mission in Matanza and Reverend Yusniel Pérez Montejo of the Eastern Baptist Convention. In addition, authorities reportedly assaulted Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa and detained him incommunicado in Camagüey. Father Álvarez has received backlash for his criticism of the Cuban regime and calls for greater religious freedom in Cuba, including in a 2018 open letter to then President Raúl Castro. Father Álvarez was later released.
“USCIRF calls on the Cuban government to immediately release religious leaders in their custody,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “We denounce in the strongest terms possible the use of violence against Father Álvarez, who has long been a strong proponent for religious freedom in Cuba.”
USCIRF recommended in its 2021 Annual Report that the U.S. government again place Cuba on its Special Watch List. In this report, USCIRF raised concern regarding the denial of religious freedom for human rights activists, independent journalists, and protesters particularly in the wake of demonstrations that started in November 2020 calling for greater freedom of expression in Cuba.