“Freedom, I dream of freedom”

Yusleysi Gil Mauricio is a socio-cultural studies graduate. She became a Christian in 2010, and since then, she has been passionate about children’s ministry and worked as a children’s pastor for a few years.

She is the wife of Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, a journalist and defender of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba. Together they have two children, the eldest is 2 years old and their baby is 4 months old. CSW spoke with Yusleysi to hear her story and share her experience.

“I have had a fervent and committed faith since I converted to Christ in 2010. On 12 December 2012 I began to attend the Fuego y Dinámica International Apostolic Ministry (MAIFD) Church in Camagüey where I worked as a children’s pastor. The church is not registered by the government and [that’s when] the persecution began. From the beginning I had a very special experience with God and I never pulled away from Him again, but being a member of an unregistered church was hard for me.

It took a lot for me to overcome my fears because [everybody I knew] they spoke very badly of what happened inside the church. It was only after I could see from my own experience that we were not doing anything illegal, that I stopped being secretive about it.

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“Being different is considered a crime”: The story of a Muslim woman in Cuba

On International Women’s Day, CSW shares the first of several testimonies from women in Cuba who have been targeted on account of their religion or belief. Today, we hear from a Muslim woman in the country, whose name has been redacted for security reasons.

I graduated from university in visual arts in 1990.

Everything was fine until I converted to Islam at the age of 24, in September 2004. At the time I was making a living by drawing pictures at the airport, but after I became a Muslim, I was immediately expelled because of supposed security concerns.

Targeted at home

Some time after [my conversion], in 2007, Pakistani students in Santa Clara and other provinces began to visit our home.[1] Sometimes they would spend days with us, during which time our house was [constantly] watched. At times people in plainclothes were stationed right outside our door, or electric company inspectors or workers for the anti-mosquito campaign[2] would visit at odd times of the day, times when we know they do not usually inspect for areas of standing water.

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Even COVID-19 couldn’t halt Cuba’s severe violations of freedom of religion or belief

In most countries around the world, 2020 saw the suspension of at least some communal religious activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuba was no exception. For several months, religious groups were unable to gather in public spaces and house churches, and the Ladies in White protest movement suspended their weekly marches after Sunday Mass.

Restrictions on aspects of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) such as these are permitted under Article 18 of the ICCPR, provided they are “prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” However, what is particularly concerning in Cuba’s case is that, even with the permitted activities of religious groups severely curtailed, the authorities continued to target such groups with routine and systematic violations of FoRB.

Business as usual amid unprecedented circumstances

CSW’s latest report on the situation of FoRB on the island finds that “despite social unrest and economic crisis during an unprecedented global pandemic, the government continues to target members of the religious sector and abuse human rights.”

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Voices from Cuba: Alain Toledano Valiente

Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente is a prominent leader in the Apostolic Movement in Cuba. He also leads Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba along with his wife, Marilín Alayo Correa. Pastor Toledano and his wife have experienced intense harassment at the hands of the Cuban authorities for over two decades.

In February 2016, over 200 church leaders in Pastor Toledano’s denomination were detained as the authorities demolished the Emanuel Church building. Pastor Toledano was out of the country at the time. Since then he has been prevented from leaving Cuba, subjected to repeated police summons, and threatened with imprisonment on multiple occasions.

In recent months, Pastor Toledano and his family have continued to experience severe harassment, even in spite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures.

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Voices from Cuba: Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre

Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre is a journalist, documenter and religious freedom defender in Cuba. Mr Fernández Izaguirre is married with an infant daughter and another child on the way. He was a member of the Apostolic Movement, an independent network of charismatic protestant churches which the government has refused to register. He currently attends an independent Methodist church.

In July 2019 he was detained and held without charge for ten days, the first four of which he was completely incommunicado. He was detained once again for over 24 hours in November 2019, and has faced regular harassment and intimidation at the hands of the Cuban authorities since then.

Mr Fernández Izaguirre has expressed fears to CSW that the Cuban government will attempt to fabricate a criminal case against him as an act of reprisal for his work defending religious freedom.

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