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Cuba: Reverend Lleonart Barroso temporarily detained, computer confiscated 

A Cuban pastor and his wife, both dedicated activists against the religious freedom violations of Cuba, were temporarily detained by police and released without charge. Though not the first arbitrary detention they’ve experienced, the couple’s laptop and flash drive were confiscated by police, and could be planted with information to fabricate charges against them. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, documented violations of religious liberty in Cuba have continued to increase in recent years.

6/24/2014 Cuba (CSW) – Religious freedom activists Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and his wife Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez were temporarily detained by Cuban police in the municipality of Camajuaní on 22 June and released two hours later without charge, but their laptop computers and a memory flash drive were confiscated.

The police told the couple that the computers and memory stick were needed for further investigation into possible criminal activities.

Mrs. Marcheco told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that the majority of the music used in their church services is saved on one of the laptops. There are concerns that state security officials could plant information on the couple’s computers in order to justify criminal charges.

Reverend Lleonart has been arrested and interrogated in the past but has never been charged with any crime. Earlier this year, despite pressure by state security agents to force him to do so, he refused to sign an ‘Advertencia Oficial’ or Official Warning, which is often used in Cuba as evidence in future arrests. However, in that incident, the state security agents took DNA and scent samples from him.

Reverend Lleonart leads the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the village of Taguayabon in the Camajuani municipality, located in the central province of Villa Clara. He also helped to establish the Patmos Institute, an independent inter-denominational forum to promote Christian intellectual thought, based in Villa Clara.

Prior to the 21 June detention, Reverend Lleonart and another Patmos Institute leader, Father Felix Ben Castilla of the Vetero-Catholic Church, were detained on 6 June, along with Cuban singer David Omni, as they traveled between locations during an interdenominational series of concerts celebrating Pentecost. When Reverend Lleonart queried the reason for the arrest, a state security agent told him it was “for being a bad father.” They were released without charge, although Father Ben Castilla was temporarily detained again on 11 June.

Reverend Lleonart maintains the blog Cubano Confesante, where he regularly denounces violations of religious freedom in Cuba. He and his wife travelled to Washington DC last year to brief US policy makers and raise awareness of ongoing and widespread violations of religious freedom in Cuba.

Since 1 January this year, CSW has registered more than 130 serious documented violations of religious freedom in Cuba; many involving large groups of people. Many of those included were documented by Reverend Lleonart and Mrs. Marcheco. This follows a trend of a crackdown on religious freedom in recent years; 185 violations were recorded in 2013, up from 120 in 2012.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We call on the Cuban government to return the laptops and flash drives confiscated from Mario Felix and Yoaxis. CSW is appalled by these all too frequent arbitrary temporary detentions of church leaders and other citizens, and we are deeply concerned by the continued increase in documented violations of religious freedom. We urge the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union to continue to insist on the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief for all in Cuba. This includes ensuring that religious organisations and groups can function independently of government interference and free of harassment.”

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