HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)—The Communist government of Cuba has closed down at least three Protestant churches following new “harsh legislation” on house churches, a religious rights group said Monday, January 9.
UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife it has learned that “two of the churches, in the western provinces of Guantanamo and Holguin, were forcibly closed.” CSW said that “the first was confiscated by local authorities in August and the other threatened with demolition at the end of last year.” A third church, in a suburb of Havana, was demolished while church members looked on at the end of 2005, CSW added. All were allegedly accused of being ‘illegal constructions’ by the authorities to justify the closures.
The new legislation, Directive 43 and Resolution 46, was reportedly announced in April following Pope John Paul II’s funeral, and required all house churches to register with the authorities. Under other new measures, services that have not been “authorized” are reportedly banned, while only one house church of any denomination can exist within two kilometers (1.25 miles) of each other. Foreigners cannot attend house churches in mountainous areas and require permission to attend them elsewhere. Violations will lead to the closure of the church and fines of up to $1,000, said human rights group Forum 18 recently in an investigation. There is apparently concern among Communist officials over Protestant church attendance which has roughly tripled since 1989 to 300,000 people, with an additional 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to church estimates. Catholic attendance is estimated around 150,000. Many Christians gather in unofficial house churches as their congregations have been denied permission to operate, church leaders and human rights groups say. “Church leaders expressed their concern at the time that the registration process was so complicated as to be practically impossible. Many believed that this was actually an attempt to shut down the house church movement across the island,” CSW explained in a statement.
MORE CHURCHES SUFFER
It was likely that additional churches also met with a similar fate, but because of security concerns regarding communication in Cuba, this has been impossible to verify, the group explained.
“We learned of these church closures, confiscation and demolition with deep concern,” said CSW National Director Stuart Windsor. “We are calling on the international community to strongly discourage the Cuban government from taking any more measures that would restrict the rights of the Cuban people to meet and worship together. In addition, we call upon the Cuban government to return those buildings that have already been confiscated, allow for the re-opening of those that have been shut down, and authorise the reconstruction of the church that has already been demolished,” Windsor said. However Cuban officials have denied human rights abuses and say they only crackdown on those undermining the revolution of Cuba’s longtime leader Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader has also denied the existence of “dissidents”, and has suggested that those opposing his government are mainly “mercenaries of the United States,” hired to fight against his revolutionary ideas. (With reports from Cuba and BosNewsLife Research).