A Protestant Cuban pastor imprisoned for four months earlier this year is scheduled to go on trial Monday in Havana, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported.
Pastor Carlos Lamelas is being charged with “human trafficking” but observers believe he is being targeted for his outspoken calls for increased religious liberty in Cuba. The public prosecutor is asking that he be sentenced to nine years in prison.
Lamelas – the former president of the Church of God denomination, a member of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC) – has stated that he and his lawyer believe he will be found innocent of the charges because of a lack of evidence on the part of the State. However, they expressed concern that the public prosecutor is using Lamelas’ application to leave the country – which he made following his four month imprisonment – as evidence against him, stated CSW.
Cubans who speak out on issues of human rights are often targeted and scores have been arrested since a massive crackdown in 2003, CSW reported.
In 2003 more than 75 activists across the country were arrested and given prison sentences of up to 25 years. The present case is unusual, however, thus far the Cuban government has not targeted religious leaders for imprisonment. It is particularly noteworthy because of the fact that Lamelas’ denomination belongs to the CCC, which historically has enjoyed close ties with the Cuban regime.
Lamelas’ case appears to be part of a wider move 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 applied for asylum in Europe, stated CSW.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: “We call on the Cuban government to drop these charges against Pastor Lamelas and to allow him to lead a normal life with his family, free from harassment. We hope that the international community will pay close attention to this process and if the trial goes forward that the various European embassies in that country will request the right to attend and observe the process. Our prayers are with Pastor Lamelas and his family during this difficult time.”