BosNewsLife Americas Service
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– The leader of a major network of independent churches was awaiting an answer from Cuba’s leadership Wednesday, October 31, after urging the government to let him leave the Communist island with his family after years of imprisonment and reported harassment.
Evangelical Pastor Omar Gude Perez of the Apostolic Movement wrote an open letter to authorities saying he was unable to build a future as he served almost three years of a six-and-a-half year prison sentence on “trumped up” charges” of “falsifying documents”.
He was released in March 2011 on condition that he did not preach or travel outside Camagüey city. His wife Kenia was to travel to Washington DC this week to seek support for her family’s plight, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“We are privileged to be able to facilitate his wife’s visit to Washington and ask policy makers there to take this case very seriously,” CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston told BosNewsLife.
Yet, Cuban authorities have refused to allow her husband to leave Cuba despite an offer of asylum for the family in the United States 15 months ago.
Additionally, the couple’s two teenage children have been barred from attending school, confirmed
(CSW, which closely follows the case.
“Today our family suffers – we are unable to build a future and to fulfill the purposes that bring familial happiness because of the high number of restrictions placed upon us, including the fact that I cannot work as a pastor because I am not someone the system wishes to authorize, because it’s not in its interests to do so,” the pastor added in his open letter distributed by CSW.
The refusal to allow him and his family to leave comes despite an official announcement that Cubans to will no longer be forced to obtain a “white card” as a condition to leave from January 2013.
Rights activists caution however that the policy doesn’t apply to certain professions and the government can prevent citizens from leaving for what critics call “vague reasons”of national security.
“It is unconscionable that even as they publicize a new policy that will eliminate the requirement for legal permission to leave the country, the Cuban government continues to block this family’s ability to build a new life, prevent their children from receiving an education and will not allow them to freely exercise their religion,” said CSW’s Johnston.
The family’s difficulties comes amid a “deterioration”of religious liberties in Cuba this year with over 100 documented cases of “violations of religious freedom since January,” according to CSW investigators.
CSW group said that unregistered churches, like those affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, are particularly vulnerable. In one of the latest incidents this month, the government reportedly shut down a Mormon church in Central Havana after church leaders complained that attempts to legally register the church had been denied.