Father Belmonte: Cuban priest refused entry at airport on his way back to Cuba

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Father Belmonte says five authorities had orders to remove him after organising demonstration outside island’s president’s home

A Cuban activist has been prevented from boarding a flight back to the island at Havana’s international airport after he said five police officers armed with an order to remove him were stationed outside his home.

In a video released by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation and viewed by the Guardian, Father Belmonte, an Anglican priest, is seen saying: “The National Security officers are outside my door and are armed with an order to take me out, like some narcoterrorists.”

“I’m not a criminal, I’m an equal citizen, and I am free from any and all forms of persecution.”

Father Belmonte was taking part in protests organised by the independent opposition group Ladies in White against the imprisonment of their leader, Berta Soler, after she was sentenced to 14 years in prison for demanding freedom for her husband, an imprisoned dissident who himself remains behind bars.

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The 81-year-old Soler is scheduled to be released from prison on 6 December to serve the remainder of her sentence in home detention. She had said the release would be conditional on her staying out of prison, which human rights groups said was a violation of Cuban law.

Soler has been demanding the release of Roberto González González, the mastermind of the 2015 attempted car bombing by a dissident named Raúl León García César whose bizarre story went viral and became a cautionary tale of Cuba’s deteriorating human rights record.

César was one of several so-called dissidents serving prison terms in the mountains near the city of Trinidad when he contacted César Gonzalez, now 75, a rights activist, to obtain a road to cut through the mountains, but was thwarted by the paramilitary Batista Guard, and asked for help. César, who was arrested, hanged himself after she failed to pay a bribe to the Guard.

The human rights group is known for organising pro-democracy rallies in a country ruled by the Castros since 1959, and has previously gone on to organise actual political rallies to challenge the Castros.

Father Belmonte is in the video telling police he had asked his parishioners to attend the protest, though no one who had taken part in that protest was seen in the clip.

His summons to appear at the Catholic church in Havana, which usually hosts opposition and human rights protests on Sundays, was reportedly refused.

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Archbishop Juan Barros, president of the human rights commission, said: “It’s unacceptable that officials act in such a way and against the civil society.”

Barros also said that despite the announcement of the Soler’s prison release, it was not a condition of her release and pointed out that her case had not been withdrawn.

However, Enver Granader, a spokesperson for the group, confirmed the prison was part of Soler’s conditions of release, the news agency EFE reported.

“It does not change the situation,” Granader was quoted as saying.

Pope Francis, who has visited Havana three times this year and was back in Cuba earlier this month to make a historic trip to the island, has repeatedly called for reconciliation between Cuba and the United States, while a surprise visit to the island on 1 and 2 November was being seen as an attempt by the Pope to change the tone of Cuban relations with the US.

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