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Cuban pastor absolved by court

CSW (12/14/06) – A Protestant Cuban pastor, who went on trial on December 4, accused of “Human Trafficking” has had charges against him dropped by the court. Observers believe Pastor Carlos Lamelas was originally targeted by the authorities because of his outspoken calls for increased religious liberty in Cuba.

Pastor Lamelas was informed by his lawyer on Wednesday that he had been absolved by the court. The public prosecutor originally assigned to the case had been pushing for a nine-year prison sentence. At the trial, however, a new prosecutor for the state, who took over for the first after he was suddenly taken ill, declared to the court that there was no evidence against the pastor and recommended that the charges be dropped.

In a statement to CSW, Pastor Lamelas expressed concern that the Cuban authorities are still looking for a way to punish him. His lawyer has advised him that he may still be given a fine for the “falsification of documents.” It is believed that 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, a member of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC), was detained and imprisoned in February. He went on to spend four months in prison without being charged. The authorities released him unexpectedly and without explanation in June.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said “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. We encourage the international community, however, 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.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

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. The Lamelas case is unusual, however, as thus far the Cuban government has not targeted religious leaders for imprisonment. It particularly noteworthy because of the fact that Lamelas’s denomination belongs to the CCC which historically has enjoyed close ties with the Cuban regime.

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