.- Plainclothes police burst into a Catholic church in eastern Cuba, beating and using pepper spray on a group of dissidents gathered there, Reuters reports.
The incident took place Tuesday in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, at the parish of Santa Teresita.
Police arrested five people who were among a group of two dozen opponents of Cuba’s Communist government. The protestors had marched through the streets of Santiago decrying the detention of a fellow dissident. Dressed in black, they had arrived at the church to attend Mass.
The police kicked their way in as the parish priest Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez was dressing for evening Mass.
"I told the police they acted like barbarians. They kicked their way into the parish, beating people and spraying gas in their eyes," Father Rodriguez said.
Father Rodriguez himself is an outspoken critic of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. In a 1994 sermon, he read a letter he wrote to Castro criticizing the Cuban Coast Guard for ramming a tugboat that had been commandeered by refugees fleeing to the United States. 40 people drowned when the tugboat sank.
Jose Felix Perez, a spokesman for the nation’s Catholic bishops, commented on the incident. "We hope it is an isolated thing. The fact that the police burst into a church is serious," he said. Relations between the Church and the ruling Communist party have improved in recent years.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation condemned the incident as a "most serious and almost unprecedented act of political repression," and called for a government inquiry.