"They Had Us Packed in Like Sardines," Says the Recently Released Lady in White Martha Sanchez

The activist was included in the list of the Cuban Prisoners Defenders organization as one of the many cases of political prisoners on the island. (Lourdes Esquivel)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 January 2020 — The Lady in White Martha Sánchez González was released this week from the El Guatao Provincial Women’s Prison and is on probation. Starting in 2018, the activist was serving a prison sentence of four years and six months of deprivation of liberty for the crimes of disobedience, contempt and resistance.

“I was released on parole and I have to go on the 19th to appear before the judge in court,” Sánchez González told 14ymedio this Saturday by telephone. “During this time I have to stay here in the house. I cannot leave the province of Artemisa at this time, I am imprisoned in my house,” she added.

“They sentenced me to four years and six months for resistance, contempt and disobedience but I did nothing, everything is a lie,” she explains to this newspaper. The government opponent spent her time in prison in Detachment No. 3 of El Guatao, where the most dangerous inmates and those with higher penalties are located.

“In prison I did not violate their laws either,” she said, referring to his behavior during the confinement. “They violate the laws themselves. They unjustly put you in prison and take you out when they understand or believe it is necessary,” said Sánchez.

“In the trial my word had no value, it was a farce, the same happened with the word of my lawyer. I repeated what I think, that I wanted free elections and did not want Díaz-Canel as president, it was the same thing I said in the street, I asked for my rights,” said the Lady in White.

She explains that since the coronavirus pandemic began, she could not receive visitors. “I was never able to see my family from that moment, they only let them send me things. We were like sardines in cans, new ones were put in isolation for several days.”

With regards to the conditions of the prison, Sánchez emphasizes: “Very bad nutrition, there are no doctors, there is no food, a lot of psychological abuse of us, threats of conditional freedom.”

Sánchez, 57, spent two years and nine months in prison and her sentence officially ends on May 8, 2022. The activist was listed by the Cuban Prisoners Defenders organization as one of the many cases of political prisoners on the island.

“Now I think that they will find me work where it suits them best. At the moment I am not going to violate any conditions but as soon as I finish [my sentence] I will continue my activism,” she said from her home in Las Cañas, in the province of Artemisa.

On March 11, 2018, Sánchez was detained by the Police when she was on her way to the San Marcos Evangelista de Artemisa Parish, along with other opponents. At the time of her arrest she shouted “Down with the electoral farce,” “Down with the Castros,” “Freedom for political prisoners!”

In recent months activists and members of human rights organizations have raised the tone of demands for the government to carry out an amnesty for political prisoners. In mid-2019, the Council of State of Cuba agreed to pardon 2,604 inmates in prisons on the island, mainly women, young people and the elderly, but the majority were prisoners for common crimes.

With the arrival of the pandemic on the island, the authorities released 6,579 prisoners in the middle of this year to reduce the risk of contagion in prisons. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) was positive about the gesture. “It is important that the Cuban government continues to advance and immediately release all political prisoners. Currently, more than a hundred political prisoners remain in the country’s jails,” added the organization.

“In 2012, the Government acknowledged a prison population of 57,337 inmates, the sixth largest in the world for every 100,000 inhabitants. However, according to figures managed by the OCDH, the prison population could really be above 140,000 inmates. This figure would place Cuba as the country with the largest per capita prison population in the world,” said the OCDH in a statement.


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