Cuba Jails Evangelical Church Leader

Friday, March 3, 2006

HAVANA, CUBA (BosNewsLife) -- An evangelical pastor who served as national president of his denomination until last year has been jailed by Cuban authorities, apparently on charges of aiding emigrants who sought to leave the country illegally, a Christian news agency reported Thursday, March 2.

Relatives of Reverend Carlos Lamelas have denied the allegations as "groundless," Compass Direct reported. The news agency quoted unidentified sources within the Communist-run island as saying that the police targeted Lamelas for harassment "because he challenged the [Fidel] Castro regime on religious rights issues."

Officials have not commented on the issue. Compass Direct said five police officers entered the Lamelas home in Havana on February 20, searching it thoroughly before arresting Lamelas. Police allegedly confiscated his computer, personal documents and several pieces of office equipment.

His wife, Uramis Lamelas, said she initially did not know the whereabouts of her husbands and was only allowed a 10-minute visit on Monday, February 27, one week after the arrest.

She was quoted as saying that her husband appeared "exhausted and depressed," as he had been isolated from other inmates during his confinement. With guards standing nearby, Lamelas reportedly managed to tell his wife that officials were seeking to “incriminate” him
for aiding emigrants seeking to flee Cuba without government permission.

No official charges were filed yet.


"They accuse him of getting people out of the country illegally, which is a big lie, because to do this costs a lot of money," said one close family member. "If he had that kind of money, he wouldn’t be living with hunger like he is now."

Sources in Havana said that the apparent allegations against Lamelas are part of a harassment campaign aimed at silencing a dynamic religious leader.

An ordained minister of the Church of God congregation Lamelas was involved in church planting. His troubled apparently began in 2004 while serving as president of the denomination’s General Assembly of ministers when Lamelas moved his family to Havana.

Lamelas resisted what he considered inappropriate government interference in church affairs and refused to sign what amounted to a loyalty pledge to the Castro regime, while challenging as unconstitutional certain controls over church activities.


In January of 2005, just two months after the Church of God annual convention overwhelmingly endorsed Lamelas for a second term as president, the national board of directors voted to oust him from that position and expel him from the church.

Dozens of fellow ministers who questioned the move and expressed support for Lamelas were also expelled, without appeal, Compass Direct reported. Cuba’s director of Religious Affairs endorsed the disciplinary action against Lamelas, a move that aroused suspicions among church officials of government complicity in the affair.

Deprived of income and under constant surveillance, Lamelas and his family have depended on the kindness of friends to survive for the past year. During that time, police twice detained Carlos for questioning before his arrest last week, Compass Direct said.

Before following his call to the ministry, Lamelas worked as a professional scuba diver. He and his wife are the parents of two daughters, Estefanía, 12, and Daniela, 5. A long-time friend who spoke to Uramis Lamelas by phone this week described her as "not upset, very calm," despite the ordeal she is facing.

"She has hired a lawyer, and maybe next week she will start the legal process, but I don’t know how long this will take," he reportedly said. "She asked for prayers for Carlos, and I am sure that right now it’s all we can do." Human rights groups have recently expressed concern over reports of new measures against evangelical Christians and house churches as well as political dissidents. President Castro has denied human rights abuses, and described the detainees as "counter revolutionaries" and "mercenaries of the United States." (Wiith BosNewsLife Research and reports from Cuba).

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