Cuban authorities have halted the demolition of an Assemblies of God church in the city of Santiago de Cuba after protesters, including the denomination’s regional head, held a spontaneous sit-in at the church, activists say.
Christians said the demonstrators also participated in an unauthorised march through the city and a “peaceful demonstration” at the local Cuban Communist Party (CCP) offices to rally against “ongoing government confiscations” and destruction of church properties.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said some 500 Christians joined the march while similar protests were
reported in the cities of Guantanamo and Contramaestre.
Church leaders in Santiago say the “unprecedented march”, organised by the regional Assemblies of God leadership, came amid a new “wave of government expropriations of church property” which began this year on the Communist-run island.
The protesters gathered in front of the CCP offices, singing and praying, when they learned that the demolition had begun on an Assemblies of God church following an order by authorities.
Pastor Fausto Polemo, who leads the local Pentecostal congregation, said he was warned earlier this year that his church was to be confiscated and he was prohibited from holding any more services.
The protesters marched to his church, located in the Calle Marti area, where the walls had already been knocked down, despite objections by the owner of the property, activists said.
“They gathered under the roof which was still resting on the frame of the building and which had not been destroyed. They then told the authorities that if they wished to continue the demolition, it would have to be carried out with them inside,” CSW said.
The march is part of a wider response by the Assemblies of God denomination to a general crackdown on, and expropriations of, church properties, Christians said.
Rights activists have linked the reported crackdown to new legislation introduced in January which allows authorities to confiscate property at their discretion.