Cuba: release detained protesters and stop harassment of rights activists and their organisations

Cuban authorities must stop the repression of civil rights activists and release those who are currently detained or under house arrest, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS.

On 27 November 2020, over three hundred demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture in Havana to protest the arbitrary detention and unfair trial of Cuban musician and activist Denis Solís González, a member of the San Isidro Movement, an advocacy group that promotes civil and cultural rights. Following the protest, several activists have been placed under house arrest, harassed and intimidated, while some of their organisations have been under siege.

Rapper and government opponent Denis Solís was detained on November 9 after sharing a video of a police officer entering his house without consent. Following his arrest, photos circulated on social media showing a tattoo on the artist’s body reading, “Change Free Cuba”, and a challenge to the authorities – “Now you’ll have to rip the skin off my chest”. On 11 November Denis was subjected to a speedy trial and sentenced to eight months in prison for ‘contempt’, a crime inconsistent with international human rights law.

In a meeting between the government and protesters, activists were informed that the Cuban authorities would respect the safety of demonstrators and recognise spaces for the development of independent arts. However, the authorities reneged on this promise almost immediately, and went on to subject the activists to a smear campaign aimed at delegitimizing the San Isidro Movement and other ‘artivist’ organisations. Prominent protesters and those who had participated in the meeting were arbitrarily arrested or placed under house arrest and, when they refused to comply, harassed and intimidated.

Organisations linked to the protests were also harassed, including the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (INSTAR), a CIVICUS member organisation led by Cuban activist and artist Tania Bruguera. INSTAR has been unfairly identified as responding to a “foreign agenda” and “intending to promote a soft coup against the Cuban government.” Tania and other activists are currently being unlawfully deprived of their freedom.

The mobilisation of protesters is rare in Cuba, where gatherings are strictly controlled by the Communist state. In a report recently released by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global rights index that rates and tracks civic freedoms in 196 countries, Cuba was the only country rated ‘closed’ in the Americas; this is the worst rating a country can be given and reflects the systematic suppression of protests and dissent in Cuba.

“Arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances have been used for decades to control dissent in Cuba. The authorities are now using these same tactics against activists, artists, independent journalists, and others who publicly express solidarity with victims of human rights violations. After many decades of being silenced, civil society in Cuba is finally speaking out against the excesses of the state and should be allowed to do so,” said Natalia Gomez, CIVICUS Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.

CIVICUS calls on the Cuban authorities to free imprisoned activists and artists, and to guarantee the fundamental rights of freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly in the country.

For more information on civic space violations, visit the Cuba country page on the CIVICUS Monitor.

 

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