The Cuban government has issued a demolition order for every church in the Abel Santamaria district in the southern city of Santiago de Cuba, according to reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The five churches in the neighborhood are slated for destruction and pastors and their families are to be evicted, according to the ruling that was issued by government Planning and Housing Officials on November 27.
The demolition order follows on a “sleep in” staged two weeks ago by members of the Emanuel Church in an attempt to prevent officials from destroying their church. Reverend Alain Toledano is pastor of the Church and has accused the communist government of open persecution of Christians following the Pope’s visit in September.
“There is a witch hunt against churches in Cuba at this time, mainly against the churches of apostolic and prophetic ministry,” Toledano said.
“The communists have intensified in their hatred and persecution of the church following the Pope’s visit to Cuba and the re-establishment of relations with the United States. I request constant intercession on behalf of the churches in Cuba.”
CSW said the demolition order is part of an ongoing “crackdown” against churches in Cuba following new legislation last January that empowered authorities to confiscate property at their discretion. Numerous registered and unregistered denominations have reported that the law has been used to target “scores of churches” across the island in efforts by the Castro government to “tighten its control over the activities and membership of religious groups and thus eliminate the potential for any social unrest.”
In its 2015 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that the Cuban government “actively limits, controls, and monitors religious practice through a restrictive system of laws and policies and government-authorized surveillance and harassment.”
“The government principally targets for arrest or harassment religious communities and leaders deemed too independent from government control or those who support democracy and human rights efforts,” the report states.
In a statement, CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We continue to call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment and persecution of religious groups across Cuba. The land grabs and attempts to manipulate religious organizations, linked to efforts to confiscate church properties, must end.”
“We urge the European Union, the United States and other members of the international community to raise concerns about this law and its impact on freedom of religion or belief with the Cuban government as a matter of urgency, as well as the cases of these churches, which are currently under threat,” Thomas said.