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News & Advocacy

Cuba: Authorities must stop harassment and arbitrary detentions against writers and artists


May 9, 2024

“We are deeply concerned about the Cuban authorities’ escalating crackdown on artists, writers, and journalists expressing views critical of the government. There is never any justification for the suppression of free speech or artistic expression. The global PEN community strongly urges an end to this persecution and censorship and demands their immediate release.” Burhan Sonmez, President of PEN International.

PEN InternationalCuban Writers in Exile PEN Centre, and Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) express deep concern over the increasing use of arbitrary detentions, threats, and summonses by Cuban authorities against dissident writers, journalists, and artists. This includes threatening statements made by Cuban authorities and public officials in April, warning of potential criminal sanctions for individuals involved in mass protests, including lengthy prison sentences and the death penalty, echoing concerns raised by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This escalation in the persecution of members of the artistic sector coincides with significant protests in March by Cuban citizens demanding improved economic and living conditions. 

“Independent artists and cultural professionals on the island have long used their creative expression in the struggle for greater human rights. Creatives’ role in advancing new ideas, promoting dialogue, and bearing witness to inhumanity have continuously put them in the Cuban government’s crosshairs,” said ARC Managing Director, Julie Trébault. 

“For six decades, the Cuban authorities have systematically sought new ways to suppress any and all dissent, particularly targeting freedom of expression. Writers and journalists had traditionally been harassed, jailed, and forced into exile. In recent years, the repression has ramped up to keep up with the growth of internet and social media platforms that serve as outlets for creatives in Cuba,” declared Daniel I. Pedreira, President of PEN Club of Cuban Writers in Exile.

Recent Cases of Increased Harassment Include:

José Luis Tan Estrada – On April 26, the journalist, blogger, academic, and correspondent for Cubanet was detained for six days at the “Villa Marista” prison in Havana, Cuba, for alleged “incitement to commit a crime” before an international campaign prompted his release. He reported experiencing physical and psychological mistreatment during his detention. On April 16, Tan Estrada was summoned and interrogated twice within 72 hours in Camagüey by the Ministry of the Interior and fined 3,000 pesos for allegedly violating Decree-Law 370 with his social media posts. Tan Estrada reported that he has been subject to targeted and increasing state harassment due to the popularity of his blog, Tanteando Cuba, and that his dismissal as a professor from the University of Camagüey in December 2022 directly results from his critical expression.

Alina Bárbara López – On April 18, the writer was arbitrarily detained at the Bacunayagua police checkpoint during one of her monthly peaceful protests against the censorship of artists. López reported being physically assaulted and forced into a patrol car after refusing police orders to return home. According to her daughter, she was held incommunicado for several hours. 

Camila Acosta – On April 21, the journalist and author was arbitrarily detained by police officials in Matanzas while visiting relatives of political prisoners. 

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara – Arrested on July 11, 2021, the performance artist was sentenced in June 2022 to five years in prison for his activism. In January 2024, the Artemisa Provincial People’s Court rejected his application for conditional releasearguing that he was not ready for social reintegration. Otero Alcántara has undertaken at least six hunger strikes, in part to demand his release and demonstrate his refusal to accept the conditions of his imprisonment: “the endless bars, the stone beds, the white light that is never turned off, [and] the 20 minutes a week on the phone.”

Maykel Castillo Pérez (better known as Maykel Osorbo) – Sentenced to nine years in prison in June 2022 for his music and participation in protest movements across the island. On April 18, 2024, he reported being viciously assaulted by prison officers, resulting in the loss of part of his left ear, with subsequent additional violence by authorities leading to a significant deterioration in his health. In a letter made public on May 3, Osorbo said he fears for his safety.

Gorki Luis Águila Carrasco – Detained by State Security at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on May 3 by authorities who informed the musician that he was “regulated,” a word used to describe the restriction of travel abroad by opposition members. He was arrested and fined 2,000 Cuban pesos for contempt of court before being released.

The Cuban government’s long-term perverse and ultimately futile commitment to suppressing the free speech and artistic freedom of its citizens is documented in ARC, PEN International, and Cubalex’s report, Método Cuba: Independent Artists’ Testimonies of Forced Exile, and PEN International Case List 2023/2024: War, Censorship and Persecution.

PEN International, PEN Cuba in Exile Centre, and ARC call on the Cuban authorities to:

  • Immediately release all imprisoned artists, writers, and journalists detained for peacefully expressing their ideas and creative work.
  • Cease the harassment and arbitrary detentions against artists, writers, and journalists engaged in their professional duties or peaceful activism.
  • Revoke Decree Law 349 and Decree Law 370. Amend or repeal articles or stipulations within Decree Law 35, Decree 42, Resolution 105, Law No. 1289 of the Family Code, and the Cuban Penal Code that undermine free expression rights, fostering censorship of artistic, cultural, literary, and journalistic activities. 
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