As the Cuban Government Represses Independent Civil Society and Media, Race and Equality Demands Respect for Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly

Washington, D.C., November 24, 2020.- The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) condemns the Cuban government’s ongoing repression of independent civil society, especially its current efforts to repress protests against the imprisonment of the musician and activist Denis Solís. On Sunday, this repression escalated with the detention of over a dozen activists, accompanied by attacks and censorship against local and international media outlets.

On Monday, civil society reported that at least 16 arbitrary detentions had taken place on Sunday, the majority of them in Havana’s Central Park, where independent activists and journalists gathered for a peaceful protest to demand Solís’ release. Solís, a member of the San Isidro Movement, was detained on November 9th and sentenced in a summary trial to eight months in prison for the supposed crime of “contempt,” a vaguely-defined statute frequently used to criminalize independent civil society activists.

Those detained have all been released, but they were interrogated, threatened, and in many cases beaten while in custody. Among those detained were Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, Marthadela Tamayo González, and Osvaldo Navarro Veloz, all members of the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration (CIR). The Dama de Blanco Berta Soler, activist Ángel Moya, reporter for independent outlet 14yMedio Luz Escobar, and independent journalist Héctor Luis Valdés were also detained. Other incidents of repression were reported across Cuba. In Antilla (Holguín province), CIR member Esber Rafael Ramírez Argota was detained; Leticia Ramos Herrería and Marisol Fernández Socorro, both Damas de Blanco, were arrested in Matanzas.

Race and Equality learned from Cuban contacts that violence was perpetrated not only by the police and State Security agents who quashed the protest, but also by pro-government civilian groups who insulted and struck the protestors while authorities stood by.

Persecution of CIR

This was the second incident of arbitrary detention that CIR, an independent civil society group working to promote the human rights of Afro-Cubans, suffered in November. On November 12th, CIR’s national coordinator Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna was detained outside his house in Havana. He was held incommunicado for over 18 hours as police searched his home and confiscated computers, cameras, hard drives, a projector, a voice recorder, a printer, documents, money, and other possessions.

Marthadela Tamayo González and Osvaldo Navarro Veloz were both detained at about 10:30am on November 19th, as they tried to attend a press conference at the CIR office about the failure of the government’s National Program Against Racism and Racial Discrimination. The two activists were taken to a police station in Alta Habana and spent approximately 50 minutes locked in a police car before being interrogated by two officials who identified themselves only as “Osvaldo” and “Ricardo.” “Ricardo” was the same officer who had overseen Madrazo Luna’s detention on November 12th.

During the interrogation, “Ricardo” warned the two to cease their activism with CIR, telling them that “you will not be allowed to ridicule President Díaz-Canel on social media,” a clear reference to CIR’s campaign marking the one-year anniversary of the National Program Against Racism and Racial Discrimination. About two hours after they were detained, they were driven to another police station in Santiago de La Vegas and held there until they were finally released around 2:50pm.

The planned press conference was suspended, with Madrazo Luna reporting that the CIR office was surrounded by State Security agents watching for journalists or community members who might try to attend.

Repression on the rise

Since the detention of Denis Solís on November 9th, the Cuban government has stepped up its violations of freedom of expression and its use of arbitrary detentions against human rights activists, journalists, and artists who speak out for Solís’ freedom.

Police surrounded the offices of the San Isidro Movement on November 18th, where 14 people had gathered to plan a peaceful protest march. In response, some of the protestors chose to launch a hunger strike. At the moment, two people continue to go without food or water, and five more remain on hunger strike.

Race and Equality calls on the Cuban government to cease its harassment and persecution of human rights defenders, including members of CIR. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Human Rights Council Resolution 13/13 both require state parties to desist from any actions that interfere with the work of human rights defenders and forbid discrimination, including for political reasons. We support the statement made by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) calling upon the State of Cuba to “put a rapid end to the practice of harassment against independent activists, artists, and journalists who seek to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

Look here for images about the repression of Sunday, November 22, in the Central Park of Havana:

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