Cuba cracks down on religious freedom, targets 1,600 Christian churches

More than 1,600 Christian churches have become the target of an ongoing crackdown on religious freedom that began earlier this year.

(Reuters/Stringer)People attend mass at a church on Good Friday in Havana, April 6, 2012.

Based on Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW) tally, there are 1,606 violations of religious liberty from January to July 2016. Among these things are demolition and seizure of churches, destruction of church property, and arbitrary detention.

Before U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Cuba for a state visit in March, religious freedom activist Rev. Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso was arrested by authorities. Christian leaders' personal belongings were also confiscated, and now there are more than 1,000 "illegal" churches that are in danger of being seized, Christian Today reports.

CSW has accused the Cuban government of targeting churches to "eliminate the potential for any social unrest" by achieving more control over their activities. The U.S. State Department's recently released annual report on international religious freedom echoes this thought, citing religious leaders' concern that the government's tolerance for religious groups has dramatically decreased.

"The government harassed, detained, and restricted travel for outspoken religious figures, especially those who discussed human rights or collaborated with independent human rights groups," the U.S. State Department said in its report.

Despite the increasing crackdown on religious freedom and the church demolitions and seizures, evangelical Christianity in Cuba continues to grow. Last month, the International Missions Board donated more than 83,000 Bibles, which will be distributed by the Baptist Convention in Cuba to more than 1,000 churches in the island nation, the Christian Broadcasting Network details.

For more than five decades, no Bibles have been sold in bookstores in Cuba, and people could only get their hands on the Holy Book inside churches. Moreover, the Bibles mostly come from donations, thus the availability of these materials can hardly keep up with the increasing demand for Bibles as the number of Christians in the country continued to increase in the last few years.