Organization Calls for Investigation into Attack on Cuban Pastor
A human rights organization is calling for an investigation into a violent attack on Pastor Reutilio Columbie, 41, of Shalom Christian Center in which he suffered brain damage, reports Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is reporting it is believed that the Feb. 6 assault was the result of the pastor's decision to challenge the arbitrary confiscation of a church vehicle by the authorities.
Columbie bought a truck from a local resident five years ago, and modified it to transport members of the Pentecostal church in Moa, Cuba.
CSW said in Dec. 2011 it was suddenly confiscated by the authorities and apparently returned to the original owner, who has family ties to an individual in the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.
CSW said the Central Committee is the same entity which holds authority over all religious matters, including registration of church property and vehicles, through the Office of Religious Affairs.
CSW said when the pastor protested the confiscation of the church vehicle and began the process of filing a formal complaint to prove ownership, the family began to receive anonymous phone calls telling them to stop or he would pay the consequences.
CSW said on Feb. 6 Columbie left his house intending to travel to the capital of Holguin Province to file the complaint, but was found unconscious on the street a few hours later and taken to the hospital. He cannot remember anything about the attack, but the only thing missing from his possession were the papers related to the vehicle.
Columbie suffered severe inflammation of the brain as a result of the attack.
CSW said Columbie is now recuperating at home with his wife Maida Perez and their three children, but still struggles with speech and memory. His daughter says he is also frequently nauseous and dizzy. The family was promised an investigation into the attack, which never materialized. They have now been told that too much time has passed for any investigation to be pursued.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a news release, “CSW calls on the authorities to conduct a full investigation into the violent assault on Pastor Reutilio. The theft of documentation relating to the ownership of the church vehicle raises questions about the motives behind the violent assault on the pastor. Cuba lacks legislation to protect religious freedom and guarantee church property.”
Thomas added, “This, combined with the fact that all religious matters are dealt with by the Office for Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), rather than regular judicial channels, leaves religious groups and leaders vulnerable to abuse and with no means to appeal decisions. CSW continues to call for the establishment of a legal framework, independent of the CCP, to regulate religious affairs.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.