By BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos with BosNewsLife Americas Service
HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife)– A prominent evangelical official in Cuba says security forces harass him as part of a government crackdown on public dissent on the Communist island.
Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente, a leader in the Apostolic Movement in Cuba, got three police summons in less than a week, confirmed advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
He also received threats against his church, CSW added.
“CSW is deeply concerned by the continuing harassment of Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente, added CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a statement to BosNewsLife. He “has been targeted by the authorities for several years,” Thomas explained.
Toledano Valiente, who leads his movement’s Emanuel Church congregation in Santiago de Cuba, was initially summoned at the local La Motorizada Unit #3 Police Station, according to Christian activists.
CSW investigators claimed that the Christian leader received the summon to appear on Thursday, August 22, after authorities learned he planned to organize a youth event.
He was reportedly told that the church “did not have permission” to hold the gathering.
Toledano Valiente had to sign a pre-arrest warrant. It warned him he would be detained or fined on charges of “disobedience” if he went ahead with the youth meeting, Christians said.
However, he reportedly refused to sign the warrant, and the church held the event anyway.
In response to his refusal, Toledano Valiente was summoned to the local police station on Friday, August 23, for a second time, according to Christians with close knowledge about the situation.
During the interrogation, Toledano Valiente was ordered to report himself Monday, August 26, to Cuba’s Department of Physical Planning. There, he learned that officials would inspect a plot of land where Emanuel Church is constructing a new building on Friday, August 30, activists said.
The landowners were also threatened and forced to sign a document prohibiting church services on their property, CSW reported. Police allegedly told the landowners they would confiscate their property if they refused to adhere to the paper.
CSW’s Thomas suggested this was part of a plan by the government to put pressure on Emanuel Church and prevent the construction of the property, though it has the appropriate permissions to do so.
He said the summons, threats against landowners and impending inspections “are aimed at intimidating” Toledano Valiente and other believers.
In February 2016, Emanuel Church’s building had destroyed by authorities, and hundreds of church members were detained, Christians recalled.
Authorities are “ultimately depriving a congregation of a venue in which to practice their faith peaceably,” Thomas added.
Apostle Toledano Valiente said in published remarks that authorities are “looking to throw us into the street again.” In a statement distributed by CSW, he claimed that the “intention of what they are doing, attacking the two locations where we are today and where we could be tomorrow, is to block both places.”
He said, “They don’t want me to continue the construction because they know that the church would end up with somewhere [to meet]. They are trying to slow everything down.”
Toledano Valiente was also interrogated for almost three hours this month by a local police unit commander.
Police wanted to force the cancellation of the ‘Deborah Conference’ which aims to empower women, according to CSW investigators.
And in July, he was stopped by government agents and prevented from boarding a flight to the United States to attend the Ministerial on International Religious Freedom gathering, activists recalled.
He remains banned from leaving Cuba, and his right to move freely within the country is also restricted, CSW said. “We call on the Cuban authorities to cease all harassment of Toledano Valiente and other religious leaders immediately, ” Thomas stressed.
He said Christian leaders and other believers should be allowed “to travel, construct places of worship, and hold peaceful religious events without unwarranted interference from the state.”
Cuban authorities did not comment, but activists suggested these were no isolated incidents.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said recently that the Cuban government “continues to repress and punish dissent and public criticism.”
While the number of short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others was significantly less in 2018 than in 2017, they remained high, HRW said.
It noted more than 2,000 reports of arbitrary detentions last year alone between January and August.
The arrests have lowered expectations that Cuba’s new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, will allow more reforms soon.
He took over from Raúl Castro, who remained leader of the ruling Communist Party and retained his seat in the National Assembly.
Devoted Christians have also expressed concerns that a new constitution, accepted in a national referendum this year, will not allow complete freedom of expression. While it eliminates the objective of “achieving a Communist society,” the new constitution still retains that the Communist Party is the “superior leading force of society and the State.”