Cuba: ‘No One Should be Forced to Choose Between Leaving Their Country or Facing Abusive Charges’

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (left) with rapper Maykel Castillo months before his imprisonment. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 May 2022 — Just four days before the start of the trial against Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Osorbo, the international human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued a joint statement in which, in addition to demanding once again the release of both artists, they condemn the practice of exile used by the Cuban regime to get rid of opponents, a tactic that the two activists have rejected but that many others were forced to accept.

“No one should be forced to choose between leaving their own country or facing abusive criminal charges for which they should never have been prosecuted or imprisoned,” the two organizations reproach. In the text, they explain that they were aware of the offer made by the Cuban authorities to Otero Alcántara and Osorbo to be released and that the former publicly rejected it, while in the other case it was retracted. “This is a practice that the Cuban Government has carried out historically and with other critics in recent months and that violates the human right of everyone to enter their country of origin,” they say.

Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Acting Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, said that both artists “are being prosecuted for exercising their human right to criticize their own government” and has demanded that the countries of the continent take a stand in a this situation. “Latin American governments should not remain silent when there are artists threatened with prison sentences, a sign of extreme intolerance typical of the brutal dictatorships that ruled the region in the past.”

For its part, Amnesty International’s representative for the region, Erika Guevara-Rosas, demanded that if the trials continue, as they take for granted they will, the governments of Latin America and Europe be able to closely follow the trials “against these Cuban prisoners of conscience, who should never have spent a day in prison… In a country where more than 700 people, including some under the age of 18, are imprisoned simply for expressing themselves, it is of the utmost importance that these trials are subject to international scrutiny,” she added.

The organizations note that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg and that these trials are only “part of a much broader pattern of systematic abuses against Cuban artists and other critics of the Government and protesters in the country. In recent years, the Cuban authorities have imprisoned, criminally prosecuted and forced into exile dozens of Cuban artists, including those of the San Isidro Movement and the 27N [27 November], who bring together artists, intellectuals and critical journalists.”

The trial against Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo begins this coming Monday, May 30th, in Marianao, Havana. The Cuban Prosecutor’s Office requests seven years in prison for the first for aggravated contempt, public disorder and incitement to commit a crime, and ten years for Osorbo, for attack, public disorder and evasion of prisoners or detainees. Alcántara also carries the accusation of outrage against patriotic symbols, for creating a work of art, “Drapeau,” with the Cuban flag.

Otero Alcántara, declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, has been in the Guanajay maximum security prison since July, from where he sent a message on May 17. “We have endured all this and more in search of a dream and responsibility for the Cuba of today and tomorrow. And they are dreams that as of today nothing has erased,” he said, adding that for those dreams he is willing “to sacrifice the flesh of the artist, my flesh of the artist, my freedom-loving spirit.”

For his part, Castillo, who was arrested on May 18 of last year, has been in the maximum security prison of Kilo Cinco y Medio since May 31. His family, the organizations report, learned of his whereabouts days after the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances urged the Government to disclose it.

In January 2022, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Castillo Pérez had been arbitrarily detained and said that the Cuban Government should release him immediately by determining that he had been arrested for exercising his fundamental rights and had suffered violations of due process, including abusive limitations on his right to defend himself.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch close the statement demanding that the authorities allow the presence of journalists, human rights observers and personnel of foreign embassies in Cuba in the 11J trials, which, in any case, should be annulled.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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