Cuba’s Religious Police Continues Harassing and Intimidating the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba

GLA Urges the United States to Impose Economic Sanctions on the Office of Religious Affairs

(Washington, D.C.) On February 24, under the color of law, Cuban security services harassed Ms. Eliaisys Almeida Pavón, Head of Public Relations of the Association of Free Yorubas of Cuba (Asociación de Yorubas Libres de Cuba, or “Free Yorubas”), for allegedly frequenting the home of a known Cuban dissident. Using police citations to harass people of faith is consistent with the regime’s ongoing campaign of intimidation against the Free Yorubas and other belief traditions that are independent of the state. (See the attached August 19, 2019 letter to Secretary Pompeo on this matter.)

This is just the latest incident in a pattern of the regime harassing people for their beliefs,” said Jorge Luis García Pérez, the dissident known as Antúnez, a close friend of the organization. “She is a young woman, twenty years old. They are likely using this citation to intimidate her so that she dissociates from the Yorubas and from their beliefs. Yoruba has deep roots in Cuba, even though it is persecuted,” Antúnez added. 

Antúnez is no stranger to political persecution in Cuba. Forced into exile about a year ago, in 2007, after 17 years in the Cuban prison system he was released and now leads the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front. Antúnez is determined to remain engaged and supporting Cubans of all faiths and beliefs. 

The Free Yorubas was founded in 2012 by Yoruba priests who were not in agreement with the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, controlled by the government’s watchdog Office of Religious Affairs. According to Antúnez, during the past few months, the Free Yorubas have been subjected to a variety of repressive actions under color of law.

For example, to intimidate Free Yoruba members and the general public, a one city block radius around their meeting house is regularly surrounded by police cars during Yoruba services. Free Yorubas members are also often randomly detained without probable cause. These and other unlawful measures include assaults and random beatings. Yoruba ceremonial icons have also been destroyed, and their offices repeatedly ransacked without warrants or probable cause. 

In early February 2020, Free Yorubas leaders contacted Ms. Caridad Diego, head of the Office of Religious Affairs and challenged her or her staff to a public debate on freedom of belief and conscience. Their requests have been ignored. In fact, the Office of Religious Affairs, an arm of the Communist Party, refuses to acknowledge the Free Yorubas, a practice consistent with any person or group that does not register with the Communist Party. The Office of Religious Affairs works closely with the Cuban intelligence services and police and, in cases such as this one, routinely uses the color of law in thinly veiled efforts to legitimize attacks on fundamental rights. 

On April 11, 2019, Global Liberty Alliance sent a letter to the directors of Google, Facebook, and Twitter notifying them that the Cuban government hacked and usurped the profiles of several dissident leaders, including Antúnez, and encouraging them to incorporate this fact into their compliance programs (letter attached). Antúnez believes that the Free Yorubas, among other people of faith, have been closely monitored by the police state using telecommunications tools managed by the state telecommunications agency, ETECSA.

The Global Liberty Alliance is committed to defending fundamental rights and the rule of law, including the fundamental right to worship freely and follow his or her personal belief about faith or conscience matters. This press release is also posted in Spanish.

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