Eight years in prison for Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, communicated to his family as an afterthought

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.” 

Continue reading “Eight years in prison for Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, communicated to his family as an afterthought”

‘A new front’ in the pursuit of justice in Cuba

On the night of 28 February, Cuban police and State Security agents carried out a raid, capturing a man who they had been searching for 44 days. He was taken to an interrogation center and given an ultimatum: leave the country within the week or spend the next 30 years in a maximum-security prison. In early March, the man said good-bye to his wife and baby daughter and boarded a plane to Europe. Eighteen hours later, he submitted a formal request for asylum in Switzerland.

The man had committed no act of violence, nor had he stolen anything. He is a pastor. His only crime was to have extended his pastoral work to reach out to and pray with the families of political prisoners.

The Cuban government has long been fearful of any link between religious groups and political dissidents and has, for decades, gone to great effort to keep both as separate as possible. This is in part a general strategy to socially isolate all those it considers to be dissidents, including political activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists, in order to weaken and ultimately neutralise them. However, it is also, whether any of the Cuban Communist Party leadership would admit it or not, a recognition of the power in the combination of spirituality with the fight for justice and freedom.

Continue reading “‘A new front’ in the pursuit of justice in Cuba”

‘The Church was left without a place to worship’ – The story of Alain Toledano Valiente

‘We were evicted for the first time in 2007. The government came into our house [and] threw us out into the street – they took everything from us and threw it into the street. We were left homeless. At the same time, the government demolished our place of worship, Emanuel Church. They destroyed the floor and took it away. They left everything in ruins. They confiscated our land. This was the first violation of that scale. They demolished everything and took everything from us, our family possessions, music and audio equipment. Everything the church had was seized, all our technology was taken away. The church was left without land, its property and possessions, without a place to worship and we were left homeless in the street.’

Pastor Alain Toledano Valiente in an interview with CSW, September 2020

Less than ten years later, Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba was subjected to a second major attack. At 5am on Friday 5 February 2016, military, state security and police officers surrounded the property where the church was located and where the Toledano family was living. Pastor Toledano was abroad at the time, but his wife was taken into custody by government authorities and held incommunicado for the duration of the demolition from 5am to 7pm. Around 40 church members were also detained, and the church and home were demolished.

These incidents – the demolitions of November 2007 and February 2016 – are two dark threads in a disturbing tapestry of the Cuban authorities’ violations against Pastor Toledano, spanning over two decades. More than six years after that second major church demolition, attacks against Pastor Toledano, his church, and their right to a place of worship continue to escalate. 

Continue reading “‘The Church was left without a place to worship’ – The story of Alain Toledano Valiente”

A mockery of democracy: The international community must maintain firm pressure on Nicaragua

On 7 November 2021, Daniel Ortega was re-elected President of Nicaragua after months of government repression and violence against protesters. On 10 January 2022 he was inaugurated. This long read on the government’s history of repression against the citizens of Nicaragua was informed by testimonies from several individuals whose names have been withheld for security reasons.

In the first week of June 2021, the political landscape of Nicaragua transformed overnight when police arrested five opposition candidates who were on the ballot for the country’s November 2021 elections. What began as covert government repression of opposition candidates in the election burst into the open as many of them were suddenly detained.

In Nicaragua, the will of a repressive leader is above the law.

The most flawed election in Nicaragua’s history

Since the re-election of Daniel Ortega on 7 November 2021, analysts have contended that the electoral process was one of the most flawed in the country’s history as a democracy, as it was characterised by the arrests of numerous opposition candidates. To many, the scenario for Nicaragua seems hopeless.

Continue reading “A mockery of democracy: The international community must maintain firm pressure on Nicaragua”

Christmas Eve in the Dark

Christmas Eve night. Millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate the birth of a baby, a king and saviour, 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. Jesus Christ was born to be a light to the world.

Over 1,000 miles away from Jerusalem, a mother tends to her new-born baby in total darkness. She lives in the community of El Encanto, Las Margaritas Municipality in the state of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. Her name is Rebeca Vasquez Cruz. Like many others in the community, her electricity supply has been cut off because of her faith. She will celebrate Christmas Eve in the dark.

A culture of abuse and impunity

The Roman Catholic Church has historically dominated the religious landscape across Latin America and particularly in Mexico. The religious hegemony of the past centuries has led to a lack of understanding about other religions, and in particular the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). In an increasingly diverse religious landscape, with 11.2% of the Mexican population identifying as Protestant Evangelical in the latest census, FoRB violations are common and widespread in Mexico.

Continue reading “Christmas Eve in the Dark”