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NEW YORK (May  31, 2022) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) strongly condemns the sham trials that are set to begin this week on charges of “contempt,” “public disorder,” and “defamation of institutions and organizations and of heroes and martyrs,” against artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo. The indictments and trials against them are baseless and part of a larger campaign by the Cuban regime to persecute artists, intellectuals, and human rights defenders connected to the historic July 11 anti-dictatorship protests that swept the island last year.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the founders of Movimiento San Isidro and was recently selected among the top 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine. His art and activism have been decried by the Cuban dictatorship. In the last four years, Otero Alcántara has been the target of constant harassment and dozens of arbitrary arrests. He was last imprisoned on July 11, 2021, after announcing on social media that he was joining the nationwide protests. Since then, he has been held without a trial in a maximum-security prison. Castillo is a rapper and a co-author of the award-winning song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem for the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. He was arrested in May 2021 after joining a street protest and has also been held without a trial since then. The regime has told them they have to leave Cuba for good; otherwise, it would seek prison terms of up to 10 years for the dissident artists.

“Luis Manuel and Maykel have managed to inspire millions of Cubans to stand up to a regime that has tried — unsuccessfully ⁠— to crush their spirits for more than six decades. And now Cuba’s totalitarian dictatorship wants to make an example of these two prodemocracy heroes by offering them the same cruel deal it has offered to so many before them: leave Cuba or face years in prison,” said Javier El-Hage, Chief Legal Officer of HRF. “This is inhumane and unacceptable. No one should face the violence of the state or a choice between exile and prison for simply exercising their basic right to freedom of expression. Artistic expression should never be a crime, and neither should be criticizing your own government,” added El-Hage.

More than a thousand people were arrested in connection to the peaceful July 11 protests. Earlier this year, the regime began holding dozens of sham trials against them. Brandon Becerra, one of the protestors being targeted, was 17 when he was arrested and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Although he was recently put on house arrest instead thanks to the pressure from his family and Cuban civil society, dozens of Cuban youth face decades in prison simply for daring to protest their government.

“Luis Manuel, Maykel, and dozens of other brave artists might have provided inspiration, but it is the youngest generation of Cubans from all walks of life who have taken up the torch in the struggle for basic human rights in one of the last Soviet-style communist totalitarian countries on Earth. As recent months have made clear, these leaders face a dictatorship that, although brutal, is terribly afraid of its own people. The international community cannot look away now. We must do everything we can to support the millions of Cubans who are clamoring for freedom and continue to pressure the regime to not only end its wave of repression and release all political prisoners but also to put an end to more than six decades of dictatorship and call for free and fair elections,” added El-Hage.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.