Baptist Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso has been put under house arrest.
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)-- A Baptist pastor remained under house arrest in central Cuba Monday, January 27, after he was reportedly detained by the Communist island's political police and state security forces as part of a larger crackdown on dissidents, ahead of a regional summit.
The troubles began Sunday, January 25, after police surrounded the home of Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, who is pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Taguayabon, Christian rights investigators said.
His wife, Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, tried to leave the house with their two young daughter to warn her husband, as he was not at home at the time, but she was stopped by security forces, explained advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
While returning hime, he was detained in front of his family, CSW explained.
"Reverend Lleonart Barroso was held incommunicado for most of the day. He was returned home late in the evening and put under house arrest," added CSW, which has been in contact with local believers in Cuba.
"During his detention, prints were taken of his fingers and toes, a scent sample was taken and the pastor was forced to give DNA samples from his nails and teeth," the group said.
"State security agents also attempted to intimidate him into signing an Official Warning or ‘Advertencia Oficial’, which is frequently used in the Cuban court system as evidence in future arrests [but he] Barroso refused to do so."
Two armed political police officers are reportedly standing guard outside the family house which is adjacent to the church.
In a statement, the pastor’s sister, Mirka Pena, said the detention "is part of a larger crackdown" on political dissidents across the country, including well known activists such as Oscar Elias Biscet and Sakharov prize winner Guillermo Fariñas.
The reported detentions have been linked to the the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, due to take place this week in Cuba.
Lleonart Barroso and his wife reportedly received a visit from the political police several days days before his arrest. Officials allegedly warned them to "be calm"’ during the CELAC summit, which brings together heads of state from across
Latin America and the Caribbean.
"Government officials informed Reverend Lleonart Barroso that if he leaves his house he will be put in prison," CSW said.
The house arrest of Lleonart Barroso follows the temporary detention of another pastor, Yordani Santí, who was summoned to the police station on January 16 and interrogated for several hours, Christians said.
State security agents reportedly threatened and warned Pastor Santí to stop associating with Lleonart Barroso or face serious consequences.
Though Cuba's President Raul Castro has allowed some economic reforms, activists remain concerned about attacks against devoted Christian leaders and dissidents publicly opposing the Communist system, still viewed as a Revolution, by officials.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group has condemned the "detention and arrest of Reverend Lleonart Barroso" adding that he is "particularly concerned at the intrusion of Cuban state security in taking DNA, biometric and scent samples from a peaceful church leader."
He said his group has urged the Cuban government "to release the pastor from house arrest with immediate effect, and to remove state security agents stationed around his home and church." The arrest and harassment of Cubans across the island "that the government considers to be political dissidents, even as Latin American leaders prepare to gather in Havana, is an affront to democratic principles and respect for human rights all over the world," he said.
Thomas said it was crucial for Latin American leaders gathering in Cuba this week "to raise the situation of human rights there and to meet with some of those who have suffered this harassment."
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).