More than 1,600 churches have been targeted by authorities in Cuba this year as a crackdown on religious freedom continues.
Between January and July 2016, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded 1,606 violations of religious freedom.
These included the demolition and confiscation of church buildings, the destruction of church property and arbitrary detention.
In March, prominent pastor and religious freedom activist Rev Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso was arrested just hours before President Barack Obama arrived in the country for his official state visit.
Religious leaders have also had their personal belongings confiscated, and more than 1,000 churches are still considered ‘illegal’ and are under threat of future confiscation.
According to CSW, church leaders have raised concerns that the government’s treatment of religious groups has significantly deteriorated in the last year.
CSW has accused the government of targeting church properties “to tighten its control over the activities and membership of religious groups and thus eliminate the potential for any social unrest.”
In its annual report on international religious freedom, the US State Department last week said the Cuban government “monitored religious groups” and “continued to control most aspects of religious life”.
“The government harassed, detained, and restricted travel for outspoken religious figures, especially those who discussed human rights or collaborated with independent human rights groups,” the report said.
“Many religious leaders stated they exercised self-censorship in what they preached and discussed during services. Some said they feared direct or indirect criticism of the government could result in government reprisals, such as denials of permits… or other measures that could limit the growth of their religious groups.”
The report also mentioned concern from some religious leaders that government tolerance for groups that relied on informal locations, such as house churches, was decreasing.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW is alarmed by the escalation of FoRB violations throughout Cuba, but humbled and inspired by the courage and perseverance of the many religious communities who continue to peacefully resist government pressure.
“We remain disappointed by the broken promises for reform on the part of the Cuban government and urge it to change course. We call on the international community and in particular the United Kingdom, European Union and the United States government to stand in solidarity with Cuban citizens by pressing the Cuban government to halt these repressive actions and ensuring that human rights, and in particular FoRB, remains a core component of any upcoming dialogues with the Cuban government.”