A prominent Cuban Baptist leader and his two sons were blocked from boarding a flight to Nicaragua on 27 February, leaving them in legal limbo in El Salvador.
Reverend Carlos Sebastian Hernandez Armas, secretary general of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba and pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Cotorro, Havana, and his sons, were traveling to Nicaragua on 27 February when they were prevented from boarding their onward flight during a layover in El Salvador.
Cubans do not require visas to enter Nicaragua, but immigration officials reportedly informed the airline that they would not permit the pastor and his sons to disembark the plane. Immigration officials and police in El Salvador have reportedly told the pastor that he will not be permitted to stay in El Salvador, and he is in danger of being returned to Cuba where his freedom would be in jeopardy.
Reverend Hernandez Armas, who is also the Director of Ministry Studies and a history professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Havana, has been targeted by the Cuban authorities because of his resistance to government interference in internal denominational matters. Government pressure on him has grown more severe in recent years as he has made repeated public calls for the government to respect freedom of religion or belief.
Whilst in Cuba, the reverend received numerous threats, both from anonymous callers and government officials, of imprisonment and negative consequences for his family if he continues to speak out. The leadership of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba has also resisted pressure from the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, which oversees all religious activity on the island, to remove him from his position.
CSW believes that Reverend Hernandez Armas has a well-founded fear of persecution should he be forced to return to Cuba and that his freedom would be in jeopardy. His sons are also likely to experience discrimination, as is common for children of dissidents, in terms of their access to higher education.
CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna Lee Stangl, said: “CSW calls on the Government of El Salvador to allow Reverend Hernandez Armas and his sons to stay in the country while his case is being investigated by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and to afford him all rights applicable to those seeking refuge from well-founded fears of persecution, including threats to freedom and life, under international law. CSW has monitored the pastor’s case for over a decade as he has courageously resisted efforts by the Cuban government to silence him and intimidate his denomination. We ask the international community to closely monitor his case to ensure that he is not returned to Cuba.”