of "human trafficking" by helping Cubans flee the country.
He was reportedly sentenced to seven years in prison by the and it was unclear what legal options, if any, there were for the church leader after the December 13 verdict by The Seventh Penal Court of the Provincial Peoples Tribunal in Havana.
Another Cuban evangelical pastor, Carlos Lamelas, was acquitted on the "human trafficking" charge, but convicted on previously unannounced charges of falsification of documents, BosNewsLife monitored Monday, December 25.
He allegedly signed a letter certifying that Lazaro Leonardo Laza was an accredited worker of the Church of God “without making some kind of verification.”
In Laza tried to use that letter to leave Cuba, the court reportedly alleged. Judges imposed a fine of 1,000 Cuban pesos ($45) on the pastor and former national president of the Church of God in Cuba for the new charges.
His co-defendant in the trafficking case, evangelical pastor Joel Rojas of Holguin, was apparently convicted of trying to help Laza flee the country and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Lamelas is considering appealing the sentence. He has resisted government interference in church affairs, and refused to sign a pledge to the government since he became president of his denomination’s general assembly in 2004.
After two detentions, Lamelas was arrested in February after police searched his home, confiscating his computer and office equipment. He spent four months in jail and was anxiously awaiting the outcome of the trial.
“Even though this (sentence) is favorable, we are not satisfied,” Lamelas said in published remarks.
Experts say the case illustrates the pressure on religious leaders to cooperate with Cuba’s Council of Churches, a coalition of Protestant denominations close to the government.
Cuba closes unlicensed churches nationwide, church groups say pastors are being singled out for harassment. Last year, Pastor Manuel Jesus Rosado Arencibia, of Remanente de Dios church in Matanzas, was jailed after distributing evangelical leaflets, The Miami Herald newspaper reported.
Recently a Roman Catholic Church layman, an agronomist who edits the religious magazine Vitra running articles that criticize the government, lost his job as president of a state tobacco company when he refused a government plea to give up the magazine.
He now spends eight hours a day in a shed, guarding palm tree stalks used to make cigar boxes, The Associated Press (AP) news agency reported.
The Cuban government was officially atheist until 1992, but it remains a Communist nation. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Cuba and the United States).