NEW YORK (December 2, 2020) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on the Cuban dictatorship to free all imprisoned artists, stop the persecution and harassment of democracy activists, and ensure the safety of all Cuban citizens exercising their right to freedom of speech.
On November 16, rapper Denis Solís was sentenced to eight months in prison after being arrested on November 9 for criticizing the police in one of his songs. He was charged with “contempt of authority.” Artists who belong to the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) immediately protested the harsh sentence by going on a hunger strike to request the rapper’s release, but their pleas were met with repression.
On November 26, state security forces broke into MSI’s headquarters and proceeded to arrest the protesters on the grounds that they were violating COVID-19 safety regulations. Although the regime eventually released some of the activists, it also proceeded to block social media websites to prevent any information of the arrests from leaking out and proceeded to put Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the leader of MSI, under house arrest.
The violent response by the dictatorship provoked a wave of solidarity from activists, artists, and civil society in general, leading to an unprecedented large demonstration outside of the feared Ministry of Culture in Havana and an outpouring of support from the international community and Cubans in exile abroad.
“Allowing the Cuban people to express themselves freely through art is one of the things Cuban the regime is most fearful about,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen, “that is an indication of their weakness. The totalitarian regime in Cuba is one of the worst human rights offenders on the planet and the oldest dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a pity that the Cuban people have suffered for three generations. Despite the police-state tactics, it is inspiring that there are always individuals willing to live out loud and demand the freedom they so richly deserve.”
As of today, Denis Solís remains in prison, and state security forces continue to harass protesters and are preventing Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo, both of whom recently ended their hunger strike, from receiving proper medical attention.
The Communist regime in Cuba has a long history of violently and relentlessly suppressing free speech, and in particular, any form of artistic expression that does not conform with the “values of the revolution.”
In 2018, the Castro regime issued Decree 349, which put onerous restrictions on artists. The decree uses vague language and blanket statements that penalize any displays that contain “obscene language” or are “harmful” to Cuban “society and culture,” while providing no administrative or judicial remedies to those accused, in a country that lacks a professional civil service and where courts are subservient to the Communist Party.
In response to these measures, the MSI was created and has been highly active in the past two years, using art and peaceful demonstrations to promote freedom of expression and challenge the regime’s abuses. As a result of this, its members—and artists in general all over the country—have been the target of constant harassment by state security forces.
Violent crackdowns on peaceful protests and art events have become a more common sight, especially in the last 10 months, as the government has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to tighten the screws on its repressive machinery. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, as well as other high profile artists such as Tania Bruguera, have been arbitrarily arrested dozens of times since 2018.
“For more than 60 years, the Castros, and now Diaz-Canel, have tried to break the free spirit of the Cuban people — and failed. We stand with Cuba’s artists and activists in their struggle for freedom for all prisoners of conscience and their desire for a democratic future for the country,” said Halvorssen.