Protestant pastors remain in prison, Catholic priest released in Cuba by security services

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The leader of a Cuban seminary has made an urgent call for the immediate release of two pastors who were detained on the evening of 11 July following massive protests across Cuba. According to Reverend Jatniel Peréz, president of the William Carey Biblical Seminary, pastors Yéremi Blanco Ramírez and Yarian Sierra are being held in a wing of the women’s prison in poor conditions in Matanzas.

Reverend Peréz, who has been blocked from leaving his home by the police, reported that the men were warned that they will be held for at least a week. The wives of the two men were able to visit them on 12 July to bring them basic hygiene items, but Reverend Peréz said it would not be enough to last for seven days. Reverend Peréz also expressed grave concern for the health of the two men, especially Pastor Blanco Ramírez, who suffers from asthma, given the spiking numbers of COVID-19 infections in Matanzas.

In a post on Facebook, Reverend Peréz stated “I only ask one question: why have two pastors been imprisoned as if they were criminals for the simple act of watching a peaceful demonstration? I hold the government of Cuba and its president, Miguel Díaz Canel, responsible for the health of pastor Yéremi Blanco, who suffers from bronchial asthma and for any chance of catching the covid in that unhygienic place … I urgently demand the release of Yéremi Blanco and Yarian Sierra. We ask all international organizations to please support us in calling for the urgent release of these two pastors. We fear for their lives.”

At least two other religious leaders were detained on 11 July including Father Castor José Álvarez Devesa, a Catholic priest who was beaten and detained in the Montecarlo Prison in Camagüey, and Reverend Yusniel Pérez Montejo, a member of the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba who was detained in the province of Santiago. Reverend Pérez Montejo’s whereabouts are still unknown. Father Castor was released on the afternoon of 12 July and is recovering in his home.

The detentions of the church leaders come amid a heavy-handed response from Cuban State Security after protests erupted across the country on 11 July. A number of protesters and religious leaders have been arrested and some have been beaten. Many areas continue to be without electricity or internet after the government cut access as part of the crackdown. Some protests reportedly continued on 12 July, including in the central city of Güines.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: “CSW calls on the Cuban government to immediately release Pastor Sierra, Pastor Blanco Ramírez and Pastor Montejo Pérez and to cease its harassment of Reverend Peréz. We welcome news of the release of Father Castor, though we note that he never should have been detained as none of these men have committed any crime. We call on the Cuban authorities to hold those responsible for the assault on Father Castor to account, and to release all others who were detained in relation to the exercise of their fundamental rights immediately and without conditions. CSW condemns the Cuban government’s explicit call to violence in the streets and urges President Díaz Canel and other leaders of the Cuba Communist Party to take seriously and respond humanely and responsibly to the calls of the demonstrators.”