Many of the high-profile cases of Christian persecution are happening in Muslim nations these days, where converting from Islam to Christianity routinely is considered a “crime” worthy of the death penalty. But a Cuban pastor can attest to the fact that the historical persecution of Christians under Communist governments continues.
The pastor, Rev. Carlos Lamelas, was arrested early in 2006 and served about four months in a prison before judges in a secret proceeding declared him innocent of the charge of human trafficking, but guilty on a previously unannounced count of falsifying documents, according to a report from Voice of the Martyrs.
He was accused of trying to help Cubans who wished to leave the oppressive nation for freer lives elsewhere. A report cited by VOM said the judges imposed a fine of 1,000 Cuban pesos, or about $45, on the documents charge, even though the trafficking count could have netted him nine years in prison.
“Even though this (penalty) is favorable, we are not satisfied. If a crime of falsification truly had been committed, that would make me an accomplice to trafficking in humans, and I would not have been acquitted,” Lamelas told Compass News. “How can it be that I am innocent of the original crime, and nevertheless guilty of the one they later invented?”
He had been arrested on Feb. 20, 2006, and taken to the Villa Marista Detention Center where he was held for months, being given only weekly 15-minute meetings with his family.
The pastor with the Church of God, based in Anderson, Ind., also lost a computer and other office equipment as well as a number of personal documents when authorities searched his Havana home.
Then came the allegations that he was helping people leave Cuba illegally. Four months later he was released without explanation, and his subsequent acquittal of the trafficking charge and conviction on the documents charge also came without explanation.
The pastor had been key to starting a number of house churches while serving his own church congregation on The Isle of Youth, and moved to Havana after being elected national president for his denomination.
Reports say his troubles began after he refused to sign a government-required loyalty pledge to the Communist regime headed by Fidel Castro, because he considered the government control of the church unconstitutional.
Leaders in Cuba’s Christian community, however, have expressed their concern that the actions against Lamelas are part of a harassment campaign to silence a dynamic leader in the Christian church.
A report from the Christian Post said Release International is forecasting that around 250 million Christians around the world will face persecution in 2007, just for following Jesus Christ.
While it is growing fastest in the Muslim parts of the world, the report said, it also is active in those parts of the world under control of Communists, Hindus and Buddhists.
“Despite the spectacular collapse of Communism in Europe, persecution of Christians continues in China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, while the dubious accolade of the world’s worst persecutor of Christians goes to North Korea,” officials with Release International confirmed.
The organization said Communist groups are ideologically opposed to the freedoms of Christianity and continue to pursue “systematic” programs to weaken and destroy the church.
Persecution also continues under the “old guard” of Communism, such as areas of what used to be the Soviet Union as well as China and Cuba, officials said.
Experts who monitor persecution worldwide said the current attacks on Christians in Cuba have been going on since an escalation in 2003, when dozens of Christian activists were arrested and ordered to serve prison terms of up to 25 years.
Other pastors in Cuba have reported increasing government harassment, including the forcible closure or destruction of church structures, and at least one other leader fled to Europe because of the persecution, officials said.
While Lamelas was behind bars, his wife and two daughters were supported by donations.
VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.