A church in Cuba. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported a “steady increase” in religious-freedom violations in Cuba (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A prominent Cuban religious-freedom advocate was released on Friday (2 March) after two days in detention, reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso was arrested while on his way home from meetings with human-rights defenders on 28 February, and held without charge in the Provincial Unit for Investigations in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara.

Alonso is known as an advocate for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and is regional coordinator for the Patmos Institute, an independent civil-society organisation that promotes FoRB and inter-religious dialogue.

CSW said it was “concerned by the fact that he was arrested and detained for almost two days without any charge”.

“We call on the Cuban government to cease its targeting and harassment of human-rights defenders, including those working on freedom of religion or belief,” spokesperson Anna-Lee Stangl said.

In October, Cuba dropped criminal charges against Alonso’s colleague, the religious-freedom activist Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López. He had been detained for six months after returning from an advocacy visit to the United States.

In a report published in January, CSW said Cuba’s religious-freedom violations remained “high”, with the latest figures showing a “general trend of steady increase”. The charity recorded 220 FoRB violations in Cuba in 2014; 180 in 2013; 120 in 2012; and 40 in 2011.

Although Cuba remains outside the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, and according to one Cuban church leader the state appears to be relaxing its control over churches, the government still places informants in church services and monitors citizens for evidence of dissent.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in its 2017 Annual Report said the “Cuban government actively limits, controls, and monitors religious practice through a restrictive system of laws and policies, surveillance, and harassment”. Its report also accused Cuba of “short-term detentions of religious leaders, demolition of churches, and threats to confiscate churches”.