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Cuban student arrested after trip to Washington

SANTA CLARA, Cuba (BP) — Religious liberty leaders are interceding on behalf of a college student interrogated, threatened and charged with public disorder by the Cuban government because of his work to expose Christian persecution there.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a commissioner with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), are advocating for the student, 20-year-old Felix Yuniel Llerena López, who was arrested April 27 upon his return from a trip to Washington.

Cuban state security authorities made him sign an “Acta de Advertencia” or pre-arrest warrant for public disorder, ordered him to appear in court and also interrogated his mother, CSW said in a May 2 press release.

“We are extremely concerned about the government’s treatment of Felix Yuniel Llerena López upon his return to Cuba,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in the press release. “Public accusations linking him to terrorism are not only preposterous and unfounded, but also put his family in danger. We call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment of Felix and to turn its attention to addressing its ongoing violations of freedom of religion or belief as a matter of urgency. We also urge the international community to closely monitor this situation.”

Llerena, central region coordinator for the independent Patmos Institute for religious freedom, was part of a Patmos delegation including evangelical pastors who briefed USCIRF, the State Department and non-governmental groups on religious freedom violations in Cuba, CSW reported. Llerena is described as the only Christian in his family.

Arriaga, who met Llerena during his trip to Capitol Hill, has initiated a Twitter campaign on the student’s behalf — @FelixLlerenaCUB. While Llerena’s current whereabouts were not disclosed, Arriaga said on a May 2 WORLD Radio broadcast that he remained in custody.

“He came to the United States briefly with a group of evangelical pastors,” Arriaga told WORLD Radio, “and after he met with the commission members — precisely because he met with the commission members — he flew back to Havana with great courage to again continue to spread the Word of Gospel.”

The exposure of Llerena’s story will not only encourage him but will also help deter the Cuban government from harming him, Arriaga told WORLD Radio. She also encouraged Americans to call and email the Cuban government directly, urging them to stop harassing people of faith.

“The fact that his name is known by Americans alone,” she said, “protects him in Cuba.”

Llerena was detained just a day after USCIRF released its 2017 annual report naming Cuba for the 14th consecutive year as a “Tier 2” country, the USCIRF category that falls just short of countries described as the world’s most severe violators of religious liberty.

Other members of the Patmos delegation to Washington, CSW said, included Apostolic Movement pastor Yiorvis Bravo Denis, Baptist church leaders Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, and Baptist theologian and former political prisoner Raudel Garcia Bringas. But there was no word of whether they also had been interrogated upon their return to Cuba.

Cuban authorities captured Llerena as he arrived at Abel Santamaria International Airport in Santa Clara, CSW said in its press release.

“Llerena López reported that he was questioned aggressively by two high-ranking state security officers, who appeared to have detailed information about his activities while in the United States,” CSW said. “They told him, ‘This is a country town; the people here don’t know anything about human rights and if one of these country peasants is made to believe that you are going to commit a terrorist act, he is going to cut you open with a machete, and later you won’t be able to say that we sent him.”

CSW describes the Patmos Institute as an independent group promoting freedom of religion or belief and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

Common religious liberty offenses committed by the Cuban communist government, USCIRF said in its 2017 report, include the harassment and short-term detention of religious leaders and laity, demolition of churches, threats to confiscate churches and the systematic restriction of religious practice through laws and surveillance.