Cuban dissident artists will face trial next week, human rights groups say –

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a Cuban dissident artist, is due to stand trial in a Cuban court at the end of the month, human rights groups announced on social media today.

Otero Alcántara, visual artist and member of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists and dissidents fighting against censorship in Cuba, was arrested last July amid island-wide anti-government protests.

Otero Alcántara has been in pretrial detention since then and, according to Human Rights Watch, the prosecutor recommended that he be sentenced to seven years in prison on a series of charges, including insulting and “insulting national symbols” for his use of the Cuban flag. in the performance piece Flagin which he carried or carried the flag continuously for a month.

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In a joint statementHuman Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said the Cuban government should “immediately and unconditionally release” Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez, a rapper and dissident who faces ten years on similar charges.

“Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara are being prosecuted for exercising their human right to criticize their own government,” Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Latin American governments must not remain silent when artists are threatened with prison for speaking out, the extreme intolerance typical of the region’s brutal dictatorships in the past.”

The groups reported that Otero Alcantara and Castillo Pérez had trial dates set for May 30 and 31, respectively.

Last summer, food shortages and deteriorating living standards exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic inspired the largest protests seen in Cuba in three decades. The government responded to growing frustration with a crackdown on communication and free speech, such as cutting internet and phone services, which made it difficult to organize protesters. Human rights groups have reported that dissident leaders are being monitored and arrested.

Tania Bruguera, an outspoken anti-government artist-activist, said in July that she was interrogated and later released, while fellow activist Hamlet Lavastida was being held in Villa Marista maximum-security prison.

Otero Alcántara was arrested on July 11, 2021 while on his way to protests on Havana’s Malecón promenade. He was transferred to Guanajay Maximum Security Prison.

“I’m going to the Malecón no matter what,” Alcántara said in a video posted to his Facebook on the day of his arrest. “Enough political prisoners, we want democracy.”

According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Cuban authorities have offered to release Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara in exchange for their indefinite exile from the island, a “historic practice of the Cuban government that has been applied to other critics in recent months. , in violation of the right to enter one’s own country.

Otero Alcantara a rejected the offer in a searing public statement.

“First I will tell you that I am an artist and a human being struggling to get out of this unjust prison, but every day my love for free and honest art grows stronger,” he wrote. “Every day I grow stronger in my love for people and in my love for Cuba.”

The statement concluded, “My message to the Cuban people is that freedom is coming soon, that I am truly loaded and that freedom will come as soon as possible, you will see.

Elna M. Lemons