Reverend Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo has two children. A son, David, aged 18, and a daughter, Lorena, aged 12. Over the past nine months, he has only been permitted to see them, and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo, in a few fleeting visits to the maximum-security prison where he is currently being held.
As it stands, this will remain the reality for Pastor Lorenzo and his family for another eight years. He was sentenced in December, but the family only learned of the decision last week, in a communication sent by the Cuban government to the United Nations in response to a request for information regarding the pastor’s detention.
The final paragraph of the communication reads, in Spanish, “The trial was held from 20-21 December 2021, during which the accused was convicted of the crimes of ‘public disorder’, ‘criminal incitement’, ‘disrespect’ and ‘assault’, and sentenced to eight years of deprivation of liberty. At the time of writing this response, [the authorities] are in the process of preparing the sentence for its subsequent notification of the parties.”
A decision that will shape the future of a family for the better part of a decade was communicated to them as something of an afterthought in a letter laden with falsehoods and contradictions. This is the strategy of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) – lies, deceit and secrecy, used to cover up their egregious mistreatment of anyone who questions their supreme authority.
Upon finally learning of her husband’s sentencing, Maridilegnis Carballo told CSW: “I don’t know if I can bear so much injustice and so many lies… how painful to see the disgraceful condition of the government of this nation… They know that we are all witnesses to their lies. They no longer even have the shame to hide their lies.”
Pastor Lorenzo was detained on 11 July 2021 amid unprecedented protests which erupted across Cuba in response to a severe economic crisis and a record surge in coronavirus cases, soon expanding to wider criticisms of the CCP’s hold on power, rights violations and management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Live footage and photos show armed police officers and members of the Black Beret paramilitary force attacking unarmed, peaceful protesters in the middle of the street, with Pastor Lorenzo shown being held in a chokehold. The government denies any allegations of violence against the pastor.
He was initially held incommunicado, while his son, who was detained with him, was separated from his father and transported in vehicles with blacked out windows. Maridilegnis did not learn of her husband’s whereabouts until 14 July, and David, who arrived home seven days after his detention, is still unsure of where he was held.
Again, the response from the CCP falsely claims that Maridilegnis was informed of both Pastor Lorenzo and David’s whereabouts within 24 hours of their detention.
In August, Pastor Lorenzo was transferred to Boniato Maximum Security Prison where he and the other men in the group of transferees were given a violent reception organized by the prison Head of Reduction, Major Edis Nelson. The men were handed over to a group of prisoners who beat and sexually assaulted them. The pastor survived the organised attack and was not sexually assaulted himself, but described it as one of the most terrifying and terrible experiences of his life.
The CCP response also claims, falsely, that Pastor Lorenzo has had regular visits from his family, but fails to include the fact that Maridilegnis was not permitted to visit him at all until mid-October 2021 and he was arbitrarily denied a scheduled visit with his wife on 28 February in retaliation for his refusal to obey the orders of the prison officials not to share his faith with other prisoners.
Maridilegnis has been permitted to visit him just twice a month since January, and apart from that their communication has been limited to a few three-minute phone calls.
The day after she learned of her husband’s sentencing, Maridilegnis added: “Every time I read that response letter, I don’t know how much is going on inside me, how many lies, it hurts me so much. This nation is corrupt to the core; only God will perform a miracle, [the authorities] love and rejoice in evil and injustice. I cling to the promises that God has given us, my Father doesn’t lie, in Him is our trust.”
Pastor Lorenzo’s continued imprisonment is a grave injustice, and appears likely to be the realisation of a long-held vendetta of the CCP, who first targeted the pastor in 2009 when they arbitrarily confiscated his family’s home which also acted as their church. The same officer who was involved in the confiscation now holds a position in the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and was responsible for the decision to charge and imprison Pastor Lorenzo. His name is Luis Noel Plutin Rodríguez.
Despite this documented history, the Cuban government’s letter claims that the government has never persecuted the pastor, while in the same paragraph disparaging him for being the pastor of an unrecognised religious group and leading a church out of his home rather than in a church building.
The way that this case has been handled is unconscionable, as indeed are many involving religious leaders and dissidents in Cuba. As Pastor Lorenzo and his family waited for answers, the Cuban government were busy manufacturing falsehoods in an attempt to mislead the international community.
The international community must hold the CCP to account for its lies and treatment of Pastor Lorenzo and his family. Those who have rightly raised awareness about the pastor’s case by requesting information from the Cuban government must continue to do so, ensuring they are not mislead by the CCP’s decades-old strategies of deceit.
By CSW’s Public Affairs Officer Ellis Heasley
Click here to read a case briefing of Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo (dated October 2021).
Click here to read CSW’s latest report on freedom of religion or belief in Cuba.