A Cuban pastor will finally face trial next week in the city of Camaguey, Cuba, after spending a whole year in prison.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), government prosecutors are asking that Pastor Omar Gude Perez, who was initially detained on May 22, 2008, be given a seven-year sentence.
CSW says that although he is facing criminal charges, there are strong indications that he is being targeted due to his leadership role in a fast growing Christian organisation.
State prosecutors first attempted to charge Pastor Gude Perez with "Human Trafficking." These charges were dropped in March 2009 after a court in Camaguey found that they were without evidence.
However, CSW says that Pastor Gude Perez was not released from prison, and in mid-April new charges of Falsification of Documents and Illicit Economic Activities were filed.
CSW explains that the prosecution’s new petition goes on to accuse the Pastor of "counter-revolutionary conduct and attitudes." The prosecution also states that he is unemployed, despite the fact that he has worked as a full-time Pastor for the last twenty years.
Pastor Gude Perez’s wife and others who are familiar with the case have told CSW that Pastor Gude Perez and his family received threats from government officials to curtail their religious activities in the months prior to the Pastor’s detention.
A number of other leaders and members of their religious group, the "Apostolic Reformation," a country-wide, non-denominational Christian movement, have also received threats and been harassed by the authorities.
CSW goes on to explain that since Raul Castro took power in early 2008, there has been an increase in reported violations of religious liberty. Another Pastor and denominational leader, Reverend Roberto Rodriguez, of Placetas, Cuba has also been the subject of ongoing legal proceedings against him and members of his family.
The legal harassment began after the Interdenominational Fellowship of Evangelical Pastors and Ministers in Cuba (Spanish acronym; CIMPEC) withdrew from the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC) under Reverend Rodriguez’s leadership.
Pastor Gude Pérez’s wife, Kenia, is only allowed to visit her husband in prison every 21 days. She has complained that she is harassed by the guards when she visits. As in similar cases, the children are not allowed to visit their father.
Pastor Gude Pérez is one of the main leaders of a non-denominational, non-political religious movement in Cuba known as the "Apostolic Reformation."
CSW says the group, which is comprised of independent self-governing non-denominational churches, outside of the traditional, officially recognized denominations, is viewed with suspicion by the government.
Many members of the Apostolic Reformation have made a deliberate decision to leave officially recognized churches and denominations, which usually have strong ties to their counterparts outside of Cuba. This lack of association therefore makes groups like the Apostolic Reformation particularly vulnerable to harassment, CSW stated.
Church leaders have reported that their phones are tapped, leaders are watched and threatened, and many church members have been threatened with loss of employment if they do not leave these churches.
Alexa Papadouris, CSW’s Advocacy Director said: "CSW is calling for the immediate release of Pastor Gude Perez. The fact that it has taken a year for the Cuban authorities to come up with criminal charges against Pastor Gude Perez demonstrates the absurdity of his imprisonment and gives credibility to the widespread belief that he is being targeted because of his leadership of an 'un-official' religious community.
"We remind the Cuban government of the protections laid out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed last year, and call on the authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of religion and belief for all."
CSW is a human rights organization which specializes in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.