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Cuban religious freedom advocate released days after being detained without charge

(Wikimedia Commons/Stephen Colebourne)The church on the square in Remedios, Cuba

A well-known religious freedom advocate was released by Cuban authorities on Friday, just days after he was detained without any criminal charges filed against him.

Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso, a regional coordinator for the Patmos Institute, which promotes inter-religious dialogue and religious freedom for all, was detained on Feb. 28 on Villa Clara and was held in the Provincial Unit for Investigations in the city of Santa Clara until March 2, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

He was reportedly detained after he lead meetings with human rights defenders about violations of freedom of religion or belief affecting Apostolic Movement churches in central and eastern Cuba.

"We were very happy to learn of the release of Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso without charge today," said CSW Americas Team Leader Anna-Lee Stangl.

"We continue to be 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," she continued.

Rev. Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a founder of the Patmos Institute, has noted that the government was not happy with the organization's efforts in raising religious freedom concerns in and outside of the country, including the group's submission of a report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Cuba at the United Nations.

Captain Erick Francis Aquino Year, the regional Head of Confrontation (Jefe de Enfrentemiento), had reportedly told Rodríguez Alonso's family that the government considers Patmos Institute as a counter-revolutionary organization, and charges against him will be serious if the government decides to take further action.

Meanwhile, church leaders in the central Cuban city of Camagüey and the eastern city of Santiago have complained about a number of religious freedom violations last week.

Apostle Alain Toledano, a leader in the unregistered Apostolic Movement network of churches, lamented that government officials have prohibited him and other church members from purchasing any construction materials. The congregation has been trying to rebuild their church, which was demolished in early 2016.

Apostle Bernardo de Quesada, another leader in the same network, had also decried the government's efforts to interrupt Bible studies that are held in private homes as well as the attempts to intimidate homeowners into stopping their religious activities.

The church leader lamented that government inspectors tried to break into his family's property, where the church meets, while he and his wife were out of the country.

He noted that the church is now using collapsible pipes and screws to prop up old canvases to provide cover from the sun to the people who meet at his home each week.

"Are the barbarities that have already been committed by this inhuman and anti-God regime against the Church in Camagüey not enough?" he said in a statement to CSW, as reported by Premier.

"What bothers them more: the torn, improvised tent that we meet under or the hundreds who meet there every week and are physically and spiritually freed from wounds and enslaving ideological strongholds?" he added.

CSW reported earlier this year that there have been as many as 325 religious freedom violations in Cuba in 2017. The organization noted that the figure was lower compared to the violations reported in 2015 and 2016, but it still continues an increasing trend in violations since 2011.

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