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Cuba Court Drops Charges Against Pastor; Concerns Remain

Friday, December 15, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By BosNewsLife News Center

HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife) -- A Cuban Court has dropped charges against a Protestant pastor who went on trial this month for alleged involvement in "human trafficking", but the church leader cautioned he may still be prosecuted in the near future, activists told BosNewsLife Thursday, December 14.

Pastor Carlos Lamelas was informed by his lawyer on Wednesday, December 13, that he had been absolved by the court, said UK-based religious liberty group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which supported the church leader.

Local Christians and human rights activists say Pastor Lamelas was targeted by authorities because of his outspoken calls for increased religious liberty in Cuba. The public prosecutor originally assigned to the case had been pushing for a nine-year prison sentence.

At the trial, however, a new prosecutor who took over for the first after he was suddenly taken ill, said there was "no evidence" against the pastor and recommended that the charges be dropped, CSW said.

FUTURE PROSECUTION?

Yet in a statement released by CSW and obtained by BosNewsLife Pastor Lamelas said he fears Cuban authorities "are still looking for a way to punish" him. His lawyer has reportedly advised him that he may still be given a fine for the "falsification of documents."

CSW said this "may just be a government pretext to keep church computer equipment that was seized from his home in February."

Pastor Lamelas, the former president of the Church of God denomination and a member of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC), was detained and imprisoned in February. He spent four months in prison without being charged before authorities released him unexpectedly and without explanation in June.

"EXTREMELY PLEASED"

"We are extremely pleased to hear that the charges against Pastor Lamelas have been dropped preventing a great injustice taking place. We now hope and pray that the authorities allow him and his family to live and carry out their ministry in peace," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

However Thomas said his group has encouraged the international community to continue to push the Cuban government "to respect religious freedom and to monitor closely what appears to be an increasingly hostile attitude towards churches and religious leaders of all denominations in Cuba."

Cubans who speak out on issues of human rights are often targeted and scores have been arrested since a massive crackdown in 2003, when over 75 activists across the country were arrested and given prison sentences of up to 25 years, several human rights groups say.

UNUSUAL CASE

The Lamelas case is unusual, in part because his denomination belongs to the CCC which historically has enjoyed close ties with the Cuban regime, according to analysts.

"The move appears to be part of wider efforts to restrict religious freedom across the country. A number of pastors and priests have reported increased government harassment and some have reported the forcible closure or destruction of church buildings," CSW said.

At least one other church leader, also from a denomination belonging to the CCC, was reportedly forced to flee the country this summer and has been granted asylum in Europe .

The frail Cuban leader Fidel Castro has denied the authorities detain „dissidents”, describing them instead as "anti-revolutionaries" who allegedly work for the United States and other countries "harming" Cuban interests. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Cuba).

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Worthy Christian News » Christian Persecution » Christian Persecution - Americas » Cuba Court Drops Charges Against Pastor; Concerns Remain