Thursday, October 20, 2005
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– Cuban police forces closed down a Christian printing press and detained a pastor for distributing "subversive" materials amid a nationwide government crackdown on house churches and pro-democracy activists on the Communist island, dissident sources and human rights investigators said Tuesday, October 18.
The US-based religious rights group The Voice Of the Martyrs (VOM) said Cuban police "raided a home and confiscated printed Gospels of John and a small printing press," October 9 in the city of Colon, about 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) east of the capital Havana.
"Five plain-clothes secret police [first] entered the house [and soon] a truck [with] 12 armed, uniformed police took the Gospels and the press. Officials called the materials "subversive and dangerous," VOM added.
Police also detained Pastor Eliseo Rodriguez Matos, the leader of an Assembly of God church, who supported the printing press, VOM added. Police then called Minister of Religion Señora Caridad Diego in Havana, "an atheist who supports the Communist government in restricting evangelism," VOM said. The Ministry of Religion allegedly supported the raid saying the printing press is "very dangerous." Ministry officials did not comment.
"We agree with the government’s assessment," said Tom White, Executive Director of VOM USA in a message to BosNewsLife. "The Word of God is dangerous [as] it can produce eternal freedom in the midst of evil tyranny." White was a prisoner in Cuba 25 years ago, after a plane from which he was dropping Christian leaflets crash landed there.
The incident comes at a time when Cuba's Communist government has threatened to demolish house churches after authorities recently outlawed most of them. "Many house churches have had equipment such as pews, homemade benches, musical instruments, Christian literature and anything else confiscated by police," said VOM, which has close contacts with persecuted Christians in Cuba.
Under the new measures, services that have not been "authorized" are reportedly banned, while only one house church of any denomination can exist within two kilometers (1.25 miles) of each other. Foreigners cannot attend house churches in mountainous areas and require permission to attend them elsewhere. Violations will lead to the closure of the church and fines of up to $1,000, said human rights group Forum 18 recently in an investigation.
There is apparently concern among Communist officials over Protestant church attendance which has roughly tripled since 1989 to 300,000 people, with an additional 100,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, according to church estimates. Catholic attendance is estimated around 150,000. Many Christians gather in unofficial house churches as their congregations have been denied permission to operate, church leaders and human rights groups say.
The fresh allegations of pressure on churches come shortly after dissidents demanding more democracy were reportedly attacked last week by security forces. In a statement to BosNewsLife dissidents said a group of "peaceful activists" were beaten and briefly detained in the area of Villa Clara, about 300 kilometers (187.5 miles) east from Havana, while shouting "Long Live Human Rights" and "Down with Fidel". Three of them were treated in hospital with serious injuries, sources said.
One of the demonstrators, peace activist Guillermo Farinas Hernandez, said he was transferred to two different psychological hospitals for "treatment" within 48 hours, but managed to leave the hospital. In addition dissidents in prisons, including journalists, are suffering abuse, claimed press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders.
It has voiced "deep concern about the condition of imprisoned journalist Mario Enrique Mayo Hernández after his wife and mother reported that he tried to commit suicide twice and is still determined to end his life." He has been detained since March 2003 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence on charges of "acting against the independence of the territorial integrity of the state," with his critical journalism.
His wife, Maidelin Guerra, told Reporters Without Borders that he "has written 'Innocent. Freedom' in large letters on his body with razor or a nail or something else he found, on his stomach, arms and face. He told us he would continue to write these words on himself until there was no more room and then he would commit suicide," she was quoted as saying. "He kept repeating to us, 'I shouldn’t be here. I’ve done nothing.' He cannot stand it any more."
Reporters Without Borders urged the release of him and over 20 other journalists, two of whom reportedly nearly died this month after a long hunger strike. Cuban officials have denied human rights abuses and say they only crackdown on those undermining the revolution of Cuba's longtime leader Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader has denied the existence of "dissidents", and has suggested that those opposing his government are mainly "mercenaries of the United States." (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Cuba and the United States).
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