NEW YORK — Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the arbitrary arrest and abuse of Cuban democracy activist María Mercedez Benítez. On February 17, State Security agents dragged the activist from her home, beat her, and arrested her without a warrant.
Benítez, a member of the pro-democracy network Red de Facilitadores Electorales (REDFE), was scheduled to conduct a workshop at her home in Santiago de Cuba to train prospective independent candidates for upcoming municipal elections. Vismayka Amelo, one such prospective candidate who regularly attends Benítez’s workshops, was also arrested and subjected to degrading, inhumane treatment.
“In Cuba, the political spectrum is limited to one official party: the ruling Communist Party of Cuba. Any other organization — including the civil society groups comprising REDFE — are not recognized by the regime and are subject to relentless hostility and acts of aggression,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “Cuba’s communist regime has a long history of persecuting civil society organizations, and will continue to do so as long as the dictatorship is in power. The Castro regime targets pro-democracy groups in particular because they threaten that power,” said Halvorssen.
A REDFE spokesperson told HRF that, at Amelo’s insistence, the security agents took Benítez to the Joaquín Castillo Duany military hospital to receive medical care for the injuries they had inflicted: a severe forehead wound and a number of other contusions. Though Benítez was bleeding profusely, doctors denied her medical attention for fear of reprisal from the regime. Benítez was taken to a second hospital where she finally received x-rays and sutures. Then, the agents took both women to a police station and ordered Amelo to undress completely and stand naked in front of them. Benítez and Amelo were held in custody until the early hours of the following morning without any formal charges or explicit justification. Amelo was kept naked until the time of her release.
A spokesperson for REDFE told HRF that their members are increasingly targeted for attacks and intimidation by state security agents. That same night, agents arrested another four prospective independent candidates who were on their way to Benítez’s workshop. Again, the agents produced no warrant but held the activists in custody for multiple hours. Last week, another member of REDFE, Joanna Columbié, who is also based in Cuba, was threatened and prevented from leaving the country to attend a group workshop in Mexico.
“Raúl Castro has increasingly cracked down on dissidents to reinforce the legitimacy of his rule after the death of Cuba’s long-time dictator, Fidel Castro, in November. The regime does not tolerate free speech and dissenting opinions, and Cuban democracy activists face more danger than ever for speaking out,” said Halvorssen. “Nevertheless, the Cuban pro-democracy movement is growing larger every day, with activists like Rosa María Payá and Danilo Maldonado making headlines and drawing criticism to the regime,” Halvorssen concluded.
Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
Contact: Prachi Vidwans, (212) 246-8486, [email protected].
TAKE ACTION! Condemn the Cuban regime’s arbitrary arrest and inhuman and degrading treatment of civil society leaders like María Mercedez Bentítez and Vismayka Amelo.
Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, Ambassador
Cuban Permanent Mission at the United Nations.
Address: 315 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, 10016
Telephone: (212) 689-7215
Fax: (212) 689 9073
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