Cuba: CSW marks ongoing struggle of Ladies in White on International
Monday, March 7, 2016 8:29 pm.
Ladies in White, Havana 2012 Wiki image CC BY-SA 3.0
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is marking the ongoing struggle and
enduring courage of Cuba’s Ladies in White ahead of International
Women’s Day on 8 March.
The Ladies in White (known as Damas de Blanco in Spanish), many of whom
are the wives and other female relatives of former and current political
prisoners, attend Mass on Sundays dressed in white to symbolize peace,
before walking silently through the streets of their town or city.
The movement, which won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for
Freedom of Thought in 2005 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize,
was formed in 2003 after a mass crackdown on dissidents and journalists
known as the Black Spring. Since 2010, all of the Black Spring prisoners
have been released, mostly into exile in Spain, following dialogue
between the government and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
However, there are still political prisoners in Cuba and the Ladies in
White are still active and growing in number.
They are often harassed or arrested and beaten on their way to Mass.
CSW’s latest report on freedom of religion or belief in Cuba noted that
scores of Cubans were forcibly prevented from exercising their right to
worship every Sunday in 2015, the majority of whom were Roman Catholics
and women affiliated with the Ladies in White. This treatment has
continued in 2016.
The report states that “harassment and arbitrary detention was
frequently accompanied by threats and severe violence. Many of the
members of the Ladies in White reported being beaten during their rrest.
On 1 February 2015, Mayelin Peña Bullain was detained, beaten and kicked
in the chest by a state security agent named Ramon in Melena del Sur,
Mayabeque province, before being imprisoned for the duration of Mass.
While most women were detained in prison cells or at police stations
during Mass, others were handcuffed and kept in hot cars in the sun for
up to six hours at time. In many cases, after their detention state
security agents dropped off the women in remote locations, forcing them
to find their own way home.”
It continues: “While government officials appear to be primarily focused
on Sunday morning activities, some victims reported that they were also
stopped from attending other weekday events including midweek services,
Bible studies and prayer groups. This would suggest that the government
policy is aimed not only at impeding the victims from being present at
Sunday Mass, but is also an attempt to isolate them from their faith
community.” Members of the Ladies in White, as well as other human
rights activists, were prevented from attending the activities around
Pope Francis’ visit in September 2015. The group’s leader, Berta Soler,
was arrested and reported that state security agents “dragged her by the
hair and neck” to a police car and later intentionally hurt her hands as
punishment for having attempted to attend Mass with the Pope.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said” “Every Sunday, the Ladies in
White go to Mass knowing that they will likely be harassed, arrested and
beaten, putting their bodies on the line in defence of freedom.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to highlight their weekly
act of courage and commend their resilience. CSW stands with these brave
women and urges the Cuban government to stop targeting them and others
like the Ladies in White who are peacefully exercising their rights as
Cuban citizens. We call on President Obama to keep Cuba’s human rights
record, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or
belief in Cuba on the agenda when he visits this month.”
Source: Cuba: CSW marks ongoing struggle of Ladies in White on
International Women’s Day – Independent Catholic News –