Religious freedom defender released in Cuba

Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, a prominent religious freedom defender in Cuba, has been released after being arbitrarily detained incommunicado for 29 hours. State security agents warned him however that he will still likely face criminal charges.

Mr Fernández Izaguirre presented himself at the Camagüey police station at 1pm on Tuesday 12 November in response to a verbal police summons. He was not seen or heard from until his release at 6.00pm on Wednesday 13 November. While he was detained, an officer told Mr Fernández Izaguirre’s wife and colleagues that he was under investigation and would be held incommunicado for four days.

He was held in a windowless cell, which he described to CSW as “too small and uncomfortable for someone of my size… I didn’t know if was day or night because I could not see outside, there was just a very bright light which was left on all the time. While I was there they took away my glasses which gave me a severe headache because I need to use them all the time and can’t see without them.”

Mr Fernández Izaguirre also told CSW how he was repeatedly taken back and forth between his intensely hot cell and an extremely cold and air-conditioned interrogation room. During the interrogations he was repeatedly threatened by various officials, including a Lieutenant Colonel and a Major.

Mr Fernández Izaguirre has documented over 60 violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) this year and was previously detained and held without charge in July. He was held incommunicado for four days and released after ten days. Shortly after this experience he expressed concern to CSW that the Cuban government would attempt to fabricate a criminal case against him, concerns that seemed to be confirmed when many of his neighbours and colleagues reported that they had been approached by Cuban State Security officers asking questions about the activist.

“I have maintained my position and I maintain it today,” Mr Fernández Izaguirre added. “They can do what they like with me but I won’t stop defending Cuban citizens’ rights to freedom of religion or belief.”

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: “While we welcome the release of Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre, he should never have been detained in the first place. The Cuban authorities must not criminalise the peaceful defence of human rights, and allow Mr Fernández Izaguirre to carry on with his work defending freedom of religion or belief for all without further interference or obstruction. We urge the international community to continue to closely monitor his case and those of other human rights defenders as they carry out their courageous but risky work.”