By BosNewsLife Americas Service
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– Cuba has released an evangelical pastor from a six-and-a-half year prison sentence under condition that he does not preach and remains confined to his home city of Camaguey, representatives said Monday, March 28.
Omar Gude Perez, a leader of a fast growing network of independent churches, was informed about the conditions by judges in early March following last month’s release from prison, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Gude Perez was was convicted in a summary trial in July 2009 on what Christian activists descrinbd as “trumped up” charges of “falsification of documents”. The charge was based on accusations that he had illegally taken his stepfather’s surname.
Gude Perez said in published remarks that the courts took almost a month to define the conditions of his release after official records showed that his legal surname is indeed Gude Perez.
He was originally detained in May 2008 and charged with “human trafficking”, charges which were later thrown out as baseless by judges in Havana, trial observers said.
The pastor and his family allege that he was targeted because of his leadership position in the Apostolic Movement church network, which has been denied official recognition.
The Apostolic Movement is a non-denominational, Charismatic, Protestant network of church groups which function outside traditionally recognized Christian denominations in Communist-run Cuba.
In a statement distributed by CSW Gude Perez described the conditions during his time in jail as “torturous”, saying his weight dropped 60 pounds (27.2 kilograms) over the course of 56 days.
As “punishment” for talking about his faith in Jesus Christ with fellow prisoners he was allegedly moved to a cell with the most violent criminals who told him they had been given the green light by prison officials to attack him physically.
There was no immediate reaction from Cuban officials, but CSW said “Pastor Gude Perez’s experience matches that of other prisoners of conscience, who consistently report being intentionally housed with violent inmates.”
CSW’s National Director Stuart Windsor told BosNewsLife that while his group welcomes his release from prison it remains “deeply concerned that as a condition Pastor Gude Perez has been prohibited from preaching.”
He said the measure “also exposes the government’s motives behind its persecution of him.”
CSW and other groups have urged the Cuban government to clear the charges against him, allow churches associated with the Apostolic Movement to register formally, and to allow Pastor Gude Perez to exercise his right to practice and share his religious beliefs.
The pressure on the pastor comes amid concerns by Cuba’s opposition movement that the prisons are not empty of dissidents, including Christians, There are believed to be at least some 60 people currently held on political charges.
On Friday, March 25, the United States said conditions under Cuba’s communist regime remain “poor” despite Havana’s recent release of the last members of a group of dissidents detained eight years ago.
“We welcome the release of the last of the 75 peaceful Cuban activists who were unjustly arrested for exercising their universal rights and fundamental freedoms during the 2003 ‘Black Spring’ crackdown,” said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, in a statement.
The release marked “a step in the right direction,” he said. “However, human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly,” said Toner, adding that Washington urges Havana to “release all remaining political prisoners.”
Last July, the Catholic Church struck a deal with the state to have the 2003 group’s remaining 52 imprisoned dissidents freed and allowed to go into exile in Spain, in the biggest prisoner release since President Raul Castro formally took power in 2008.
But only 40 agreed to leave Cuba, and the remaining dozen insisted on staying, leading in some cases to months-long delays in their release, according to rights activists.
Last week, the government released Felix Navarro and Jose Ferrer, the last from the 2003 group.