Artistic freedom and human rights groups have raised concerns about curbs to civil liberties in Cuba and the detention of Cuban rapper Denis Solis Gonzalez, which led to an unusually large display of public dissent outside the country’s culture ministry on Friday.
Gonzalez was arrested on November 9 and sentenced to eight months in prison for “contempt” after insulting a police officer, a charge that Amnesty International says is “inconsistent with international human rights standards”.
Freemuse, a non-governmental organisation that advocates for artistic expression around the world, said in a statement that the rapper, who remains in jail, was unable to contact his family before November 18.
The Center for a Free Cuba stands in solidarity with the San Isidro Movement, and their defense of fundamental human rights, and joins their call for the freedom without delay of Denis Solís González. 3/5 pic.twitter.com/X8devm2GAx
— Center for Free Cuba (@cubacenter) November 27, 2020
The group also condemned the arrest of Didier Almagro, a musician sentenced to three years in prison on November 13 on charges of contempt of court and public disorder for allegedly participating in a demonstration against power cuts on August 4.
Sverre Pedersen, Freemuse campaigns and advocacy manager, said the arrests and sentences violate the artists’ “basic human right to freedom of expression” and breach the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory.
“We demand that the Cuban authorities release these artists from prison and drop all charges brought against them,” Pedersen added.
Eviction of protesters
Police on Thursday evicted 14 members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective that campaigns for artistic freedom in Cuba, from a house in Old Havana.
The members had been protesting for 10 days, with some on hunger strike. Gonzalez is a member of the collective.
While opposition groups in Cuba have struggled to gain traction due to the government’s monopoly on mass media and its harsh crackdown on public shows of dissent, growing access to the internet has enabled groups like the San Isidro Movement to reach a wider audience.
The movement, founded in 2018, often spreads its message through irreverent artistic performances and has had numerous run-ins with authorities.
🔴Stop police brutality and arbitrary detention against artists in #Cuba.
Artists are on the #hungerstrike protesting the increasing persecution of artists being imprisoned. They won't stop until #rappers #DidierAlmagro and #DenisSolis are free.https://t.co/rgAxHdebtW#trapped pic.twitter.com/B3f2rO9amk
— Freemuse (@Freemuse98) November 26, 2020
“They entered by force, breaking the door,” independent journalist Iliana Hernandez recounted of the eviction in a video livestreamed on Facebook, according to Reuters News Agency.
“Many military people dressed as if they were doctors, wearing gowns.”
Authorities said the eviction was motivated by COVID-19 restrictions, saying one member of the group had returned from Mexico via the United States and had not properly quarantined.
Power just went out in the street where more than 200 artists, activists and others are protesting in front of #Cuba’s culture ministry. Police no longer letting anyone in. But the vibe here is still upbeat, with the crowd singing, waving their phone torches, clapping … pic.twitter.com/bEJM3Pth7N
— Sarah Marsh (@reuterssarah) November 28, 2020
After the raid, the 14 members of the group were given COVID-19 tests and returned to their homes, with the collective’s headquarters closed by the authorities, activists said on social media.
However, two activists refused to go home and were arrested again: Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 32, and Anamely Ramos, 35.
Rare public display of dissent
On Friday, about 200 protesters, including prominent members of the country’s film industry, gathered outside of Cuba’s culture ministry demanding “dialogue” with the government.
The protesters’ list of demands included information on the whereabouts of Otero and Ramos, the release of Gonzalez and an end to the “harassment” of artists.
Last night regime agents stormed and forcibly removed peaceful activists in their latest string of human rights abuses. @Mov_sanisidro went on a 10 day hunger strike to protest precisely such attacks. The international community is demanding the regime respect Cuban human rights.
— Michael G. Kozak (@WHAAsstSecty) November 27, 2020
“It is time for dialogue and I believe that you young people must be listened to,” well-known actor and director Jorge Perugorria, 55, told the protesters, as reported by the AFP news agency.
Amnesty International also called for the release of Otero and Ramos on Friday, saying they were “prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely because of their consciously held beliefs”.
Meanwhile, US Department of State official Michael Kozak said on Twitter that “the international community is demanding the regime respect Cuban human rights.”