Concern over forced closure of churches in Cuba
The human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that at least three Protestant churches have been forcibly closed down in Cuba.
The closures follow legislation affecting house churches which was announced last year.
Reports suggest that two of the churches, in the western provinces of Guantanamo and Holguin, were forcibly closed. The first was confiscated by local authorities in August and the other threatened with demolition at the end of last year.
A third church, in a suburb of Havana, was demolished while church members looked on at the end of the year. All were accused of being ëillegal constructionsí by the authorities to justify the closures.
The new legislation, Directive 43 and Resolution 46, was announced in April in the wake of Pope John Paul II's funeral, and required all house churches to register with the authorities.
Church leaders expressed their concern at the time that the registration process was so complicated as to be practically impossible. Many believed that this was actually an attempt to shut down the house church movement across the island.
CSW is disturbed that the three church closures seem to suggest that a new wave of repression of religious freedom could be on the horizon. It is possible that additional churches have also met with a similar fate but because of security concerns regarding communication in Cuba, this has been impossible to verify.
Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said, ìWe learned of these church closures, confiscation and demolition with deep concern. We are calling on the international community to strongly discourage the Cuban government from taking any more measures that would restrict the rights of the Cuban people to meet and worship together. In addition, we call upon the Cuban government to return those buildings that have already been confiscated, allow for the re-opening of those that have been shut down, and authorise the reconstruction of the church that has already been demolished.î