Date: June 27, 2014
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
TAGUAYABON, CAMAJUANÍ, CUBA (ANS) -- Religious freedom activists Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and his wife Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez were temporarily detained by Cuban police in the municipality of Camajuaní on 22 June and released two hours later without charge, but their laptop computers and a memory flash drive were confiscated.
Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso
According to British-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the police told the couple that the computers and memory stick were needed for further investigation into possible criminal activities.
Mrs. Marcheco told CSW that the majority of the music used in their church during services is saved on one of the laptops. There are concerns that state security officials could plant information on the couple's computers in order to justify criminal charges.
"Reverend Lleonart has been arrested and interrogated in the past but has never been charged with any crime," said a spokesperson for CSW. "Earlier this year, despite pressure by state security agents to force him to do so, he refused to sign an 'Advertencia Oficial' or 'Official Warning,' which is often used in Cuba as evidence in future arrests. However, in that incident, the state security agents took DNA and scent samples from him."
Reverend Lleonart leads the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the village of Taguayabon in the Camajuani municipality, located in the c entral province of Villa Clara. He also helped to establish the Patmos Institute, an independent inter-denominational forum to promote Christian intellectual thought, based in Villa Clara.
"Prior to the 21 June detention, Reverend Lleonart and another Patmos Institute leader, Father Felix Ben Castilla of the Vetero-Catholic Church, were detained on June 6, 2014, along with Cuban singer David Omni as they traveled between locations during an interdenominational series of concerts celebrating Pentecost," the CSW spokesperson continued.
"Reverend Lleonart queried the reason for the arrest, a state security agent told him it was 'for being a bad father.' They were released without charge, although Father Ben Castilla was temporarily detained again on June 11, 2014."
Reverend Lleonart maintains the Spanish-language blog Cubano Confesante (cubanoconfesante.com,) where he regularly denounces violations of religious freedom in Cuba. He and his wife traveled to Washington DC la st year to brief US policy makers and raise awareness of ongoing and widespread violations of religious freedom in Cuba.
Dan and Norma Wooding pictured with Christians in Cuba
Since January 1 of this year, CSW has registered more than 130 serious documented violations of religious freedom in Cuba, with many involving large groups of people. Many of those included were documented by Reverend Lleonart and Mrs. Marcheco. This follows a trend of a crackdown on religious freedom in recent years; 185 violations were recorded in 2013, up from 120 in 2012.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, "We call on the Cuban government to return the laptops and flash drives confiscated from Mario Felix and Yoaxis. CSW is appalled by these all too frequent arbitrary temporary detentions of church leaders and other citizens, and we are deeply concerned by the continued increase in documented violations of religious freedom.
"We urge the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union to continue to insist on the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief for all in Cuba. This includes ensuring that religious organizations and groups can function independently of government interf erence and free of harassment."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
Note to Editors from CSW:
1. Reverend Lleonart and Ms. Marcheco are affiliated with the Western Baptist Convention, a legally recognized denomination which is not part of the Cuban Council of Churches, but which, in terms of numbers, is one of the largest religious groups on the island.
Note to the Editors from Dan Wooding. I have visited Cuba on three occasions, and after my last visit, I was informed via a third-party that I was no longer welcom e in the island because of my reporting on persecution there, and would be immediately arrested if I tried to re-enter the country, something I consider that to be a badge of honor.