In August 2016, CSW’s latest report on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in Cuba detailed FoRB violations including the destruction of church property, arbitrary detention and harassment of religious leaders, and the demolition and confiscation of church buildings.
There has been some misreporting in the media about the situation concerning churches belonging to the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination, in particular the situation regarding 1,400 AoG churches that are in the process of being expropriated by the government; 100 of which are under threat of demolition.
As CSW’s report explains, between January and July 2016 there was a continuation of serious FoRB violations in Cuba: “In line with previous years, these religious freedom violations are predominantly carried out by Cuban government officials and the Office of Religious Affairs (the ORA), and take place in many regions throughout the island.”
“In 2015 around 2,000 churches linked to the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination, the largest Protestant denomination in Cuba, were declared illegal by the government. 1,400 of these church buildings, many of which are house churches, are in the process of being expropriated by the government – despite the fact that the denomination has refused to sign the orders of confiscation. Although the government made verbal promises in early 2016 to the denominational leadership not to go ahead with the expropriation, neither the ORA nor the Ministry of Housing have made any effort to halt this process.”
No churches have yet been seized, as indeed the AoG World Missions has stated; however the process of expropriation is underway and the status of the churches has not officially been changed.
The legislation under which the AoG churches were declared illegal is Legal Decree 322. As CSW’s report states: “This legislation, which was announced on 5 September 2014 and came into effect on 5 January 2015, was supposedly established to regulate private properties and enforce zoning laws. However, it has been and is being used by government officials to seize church properties.”
The report also notes that government has failed to honour its verbal assurances to religious groups in the past: “The government has also failed to keep its promises to other churches and religious groups. The Maranatha Baptist Church, part of the Eastern Baptist Convention, was notified in December 2015 that the order for the confiscation of their church under Legal Decree 322 had been rescinded. They were informed that they would also be able to build a new church, as the current building is in poor condition and too small for their congregation of 800. However, the government has not followed through with the necessary permits for the new construction.”
In its report , CSW makes the following recommendations to the Cuban government:
- Respond to increasing calls by many religious leaders and their congregations for better protection of FoRB, by abolishing the Office for Religious Affairs (ORA) and adopting legislation that facilitates the registration process and protects FoRB for all.
- Reform Legal Decree 322 to ensure it cannot be used to arbitrarily expropriate property, including property belonging to religious associations.
- Nullify the designation of 2,000 Assemblies of God churches across the country as illegal, halt the process of confiscating 1400 of those churches, and cease the demolitions of other church properties.
CSW stands with all religious groups in Cuba who are facing freedom of religion or belief violations.