State Prosecutor Asks For 7-Year Prison Sentence For Cuban Pastor
By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries
CAMAGUEY, CUBA (ANS) -- A State prosecutor has requested a seven-year prison sentence be given to Pastor Omar Gude Pérez, currently imprisoned in Camaguey, Cuba, on charges of “illicit economic activity and falsification of documents.”
Pastor Pérez with his wife Kenia before his arrest (Photo: Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), those close to him, however, believe he is being targeted because of his religious activity and leadership of a rapidly growing Christian movement. The prosecutor’s petition goes on to accuse the pastor of “counter-revolutionary conduct and attitudes.”
CSW says that Pastor Gude Pérez, a leader of a non-denominational, non-political religious movement in Cuba known as the “Apostolic Reformation,” has already spent almost one year in prison without being given a trial. He was first detained on May 22, 2008, and authorities originally attempted to charge him with “human trafficking.” These charges were thrown out last month, however, by a local court citing a complete lack of evidence. The case was then referred to Havana and last week the family was notified of the new charges.
“The pastor’s wife says the new charges are merely an attempt to disguise the fact that he is a victim of religious persecution,” said a CSW spokesperson. “She and others familiar with the case point to the fact that he and the family received threats and warnings to curtail their religious activities from government officials for months prior to his detention. A number of other leaders and members of their religious group have also received threats and been harassed by the authorities.
“Since Raul Castro took power in early 2008, there has been an increase in reported violations of religious liberty. Another pastor and denominational leader, Reverend Roberto Rodriguez, of Placetas, Cuba has also been the subject of legal proceedings against him and members of his family. This appears to be in retaliation for the withdrawal of the church group which Reverend Rodriguez leads from the Cuban Council of Churches in Autumn 2008.”
Reverend Stuart Windsor, National Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, “The imprisonment of Pastor Gude Pérez is a clear case of religious persecution and is part of a larger crackdown on religious groups in Cuba. We call on the Cuban authorities to release him immediately and, in line with the protections laid out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it signed last year, to guarantee the right to religious freedom for all groups.”
Note to Editors from CSW:
Pastor Omar Gude Pérez was detained in Camaguey on May 22, 2008 and subsequently charged with “Human Trafficking.” Following his imprisonment, government officials carried out a full inventory of his family’s home and threatened to confiscate their house and possessions. They have not yet followed through on these threats but the family feels extremely vulnerable.
The pastor’s wife, Kenia, is only allowed to visit her husband in prison every 21 days. She has complained that she is harassed by the guards when she visits. As in similar cases, the children are not allowed to visit their father.
After the charges of “human trafficking” were thrown out, Pastor Gude Pérez was charged with “illicit economic activity and falsification of documents”. Prosecutors have asked for a seven-year prison sentence and have cited his “counter-revolutionary” behavior and attitude. His wife says that the government is alleging that the family carried out illegal business activities on an internet connection that they have in their home. She says these allegations are untrue. The charge of falsification of documents apparently stems from the fact that the pastor’s mother only put down her last names on his birth certificate. His step-father later changed the documents to include his full name. The pastor’s wife says that the name change was done through the proper legal channels and that they have the documentation to prove this.
Pastor Gude Pérez is one of the main leaders of a non-denominational, non-political religious movement in Cuba known as the “Apostolic Reformation”. The group, which is comprised of independent self-governing non-denominational churches, outside of the traditional, officially recognized denominations, is apparently seen as a threat by the government. Many members of the Apostolic Reformation have made a deliberate decision to leave officially recognized churches and denominations, which usually have strong ties to their counterparts outside of Cuba. This lack of association therefore makes groups like the Apostolic Reformation particularly vulnerable to harassment. Church leaders have reported that their phones are tapped, leaders are watched and threatened, and many church members have been threatened with loss of employment if they do not leave these churches.
Pastor Gude Pérez, his family and their church had been receiving threats from government officials for months prior to his detention. They believe that he was targeted because of his position as one of three main leaders of the Apostolic Reformation. Prior to his imprisonment, Pastor Gude Pérez and his wife, Kenia, were working with another couple to start a small Bible school. As part of their ministry, the Apostolic Nations for Christ Movement, Pastor Gude Pérez and Kenia oversee several pastors and leaders across Cuba and have been working to train more leaders in order to grow the ministry.
It is significant that the charge of “human trafficking” is identical to that brought against Pastor Carlos Lamelas in 2006. His case was also judged by many in and outside of Cuba as aimed at curtailing his influence within his denomination and silencing his calls for increased religious freedom. The charges against Pastor Lamelas were eventually found by a Cuban judge to have no basis, but only after he had served four months in prison and almost a full year after his initial detention.
Note: CSW is a human rights organization which specializes in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.
For further information contact Theresa Malinowska, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on + 44 20 8329 0045, email email@example.com or visit www.csw.org.uk
Dan Wooding, 68, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma of 45 years. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS); and US Bureau Chief for the Missionaries News Service (www.missionariesnews.tv) and Safe Worlds IPTV’s Faith, Hope and Charity channel. He was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC., and now hosts the weekly "Front Page Radio" show on KWVE in Southern California and which is also carried on the Calvary Radio Network throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on UCB UK and Calvary Chapel Radio UK. Wooding is the author of some 42 books, the latest of which is his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, go to www.fromtabloidtotruth.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.