Cuban journalists and human rights defenders report an increase in acts of violence, repression and harassment against their political activism

As part of the celebrations of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25N), the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race & Equality) emphasizes the increase in indiscriminate acts of harassment and arbitrary detentions against female activists and rights defenders in Cuba.

Although the Cuban state is obligated to protect the fundamental rights of women, guarantee their personal integrity and eliminate all forms violence or discrimination against them, women on the island, especially those involved in political activism, report constant rights violations. Cuban activists continue to feel threaten, harassed and criminalized for defending their rights and the rights of all Cuban women.

In recent weeks, a concerning number of repressive acts utilizing the well-known strategies of arbitrary detentions, short-term police ‘kidnappings,’ home raids and invasive surveillance have been recorded, particularly targeting female rights defenders.

Cuban activist Nancy Alfaya

Nancy Alfaya, an Afro-Cuban activist and rights defender who holds leadership positions in the Women’s Network for Equality, Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration, Cuban Club of Writers & Artists and the cultural group Puente a la Vista (Bridge to Perspective), was detained two times within 24 hours in the last week. During her detention, she was threated by a State Security agent, who told her that she may be charged under ‘dangerousness’ laws. He also threatened to prevent her from taking part in any activity marking 25N and threatened to revoke the furlough granted to her husband, who was arrested as part of the 2003 “Black Spring” in which 75 civil society activists were detained. In the prior weeks, Nancy was monitored by surveillance operations that prevented her from leaving her house.

Marthadela Tamayo, cuban activist

Meanwhile, Marthadela Tamayo, also part of the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration and the Cuban Club of Writers & Artists, was detained on November 21st and held in an unknown location for several hours. Her interrogators told her that she would not be allowed to participate in any activities related to gender-based violence.[1] She was also threatened with a ‘dangerousness’ charge. Like Nancy, she had recently been followed by State Security agents who prevented her from leaving her house.[2]

Other cases include:

  • Journalist Luz Escobar was put under house arrest three times in less than ten days.
  • Journalist and activist Iliana Hernandez reported that officials fined her and revoked her business license last Thursday.
  • Micaela Roll, a member of the Damas de Blanco, was arrested on Friday upon leaving the Damas’ office and held in an unknown location for 48 hours.[3]

Although these arrests took place before 25N, they reveal a strategy by the government to avoid protests or other civil society actions against gender-based violence that might interfere with the commemoration of the anniversary of Fidel Castro’s death. Meanwhile, arbitrary detentions, violence, harassment and repression against women, especially female activists, continue to grow.

These repressive tactics have escalated in the lead-up to other official celebrations in Cuba, including May 1st, the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana and the visit by the King and Queen of Spain.[4] These tactics seek to prevent women leaders from moving about freely, limiting their ability to carry out effective activism.

As we mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25N), we remind the Cuban state of its obligation to guarantee and safeguard the lives, integrity and free development of all women, free of any form of violence or discrimination. Likewise, we remind the government of its international obligations to recognize, respect and guarantee the rights of women, having signed and ratified the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Race & Equality calls upon the Cuban state to ensure free and safe passage for women activists and to protect their human rights. We emphasize that freedom of expression, opinion and of the press are all protected under international agreements to which Cuba is a party. We also demand that the Cuban state, in line with its obligations under CEDAW, assure that women enjoy development and social progress so that they may exercise and enjoy all their rights and freedoms in conditions of full equality.


[1] Ciber Cuba, State Security warns activists: “No activities this Monday” (2019). Available at (Spanish): https://www.cibercuba.com/noticias/2019-11-24-u199482-e199482-s27061-cero-actividad-este-lunes-advierte-seguridad-estado

[2] AND Cuba, Activists denounce harassment by the political police (2019). Available at (Spanish): https://adncuba.com/noticias-de-cuba/activistas-denuncian-hostigamiento-de-la-policia-politica

[3] Yolando Huerga, Restrictions and violence against women grow in Cuba, Radio Televisión Martí (2019). Available at (Spanish): https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/las-restricciones-y-el-acoso-contra-las-mujeres-crecen-en-cuba/252864.html

[4] CiberCuba, Police detentions during the celebrations of May 1st in Moa, Holguín (2019). Available at (Spanish): https://www.cibercuba.com/videos/sociedad/2019-05-06-u1-e199352-s27061-tonfa-limpia-termino-detencion-policial-durante

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