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Cuba: six new prisoners of conscience named in aftermath of 11 July protests

Riot police on the streets in Havana on 12 July 2021 © AFP via Getty Images

*Detailed new findings* published today Hundreds detained in aftermath of widespread 11 July protests Journalists placed under intensive home surveillance ‘The Cuban authorities have applied the same machinery of control that they have used to target alternative thinkers for decades’ - Erika Guevara Rosas In the wake of recent widespread demonstrations, the Cuban authorities have intensified a crackdown on dissidents and peaceful protesters, said Amnesty International today. Having gathered new evidence of the authorities committing crimes under international law and grave human rights

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Cuba: Release all peaceful protestors

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On 11 July people took to the streets across Cuba to peacefully protest over the economy, shortages of medicines, the response to COVID-19, and historically harsh restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.  

As of 21 July, potentially hundreds of people are still being detained following the protests, according to evolving lists being compiled by NGO Cubalex and Prisoners Defenders. On 16 July, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights called on Cuba to release those detained for peacefully exercising their right to protest. Michelle Bachelet expressed concern over the large number of people detained and called on the authorities to release those detained for peacefully exercising their right to protest.

Since 16 July, Amnesty International has spoken to multiple relatives of families detained in the context of the protests. They told the organization that the authorities had not informed them of the whereabouts of their relatives. In one case, the family had not been informed of the relative’s whereabouts for 96 hours. In another case, a family member indicated they had not been able to locate their relative for 6 days. In none of the cases had the relatives received a phone call from detainees. 

On 14 July, representatives from the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Interior said on state television that they were investigating individual responsibility for the organization of the protests and the “crimes” committed during the protests. That same day, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all journalists detained during the protests. It said authorities had “intermittently blocked dozens of reporters from leaving their homes” and called on the government to allow the press to cover the protests freely and to stop disrupting internet in the country. 

On 20 July, on Canal Caribe, a state-controlled station, representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Interior denied that families were being refused information about those detained on 11 July. However, no representatives of families or other alternative voice was present during the program. Granma, Cuba’s state newspaper, also tweeted that there were no missing persons, and classified Sunday’s protests as “riots.”

The rights of detainees to communicate with the outside world and to receive visits are fundamental safeguards against human rights violations, including torture or other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance. Furthermore, Cuba is a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. According to the Convention, a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to disclose the fate or whereabouts of a person following their detention, can amount to an enforced disappearance, a crime under international law.

The Cuban authorities have long used an array of provisions of the Penal Code to stifle dissent and punish those critical of the government. Commonly used provisions include contempt of a public official (desacato), resistance to public officials carrying out their duties (resistencia) and public disorder (desórdenes públicos).

Network data from Netblocks has reported that several social media and communications platforms, including Whatsapp, Facebook, and Instagram were disrupted in Cuba from 12 July, making communication within and with the country difficult. 

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Cuba: protests are a desperate cry to a government that doesn't listen

In response to news of the protests in Cuba yesterday (11 July), Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said: “It was a historic day for Cuba but during the spontaneous demonstrations we received alarming reports of internet blackouts, arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force – including police firing on demonstrators – and reports of a long list of missing people. “Instead of repressing the population, the Cuban authorities have an obligation to protect their right to demonstrate peacefully. “It is unacceptable that the Cuban government has denied these rights for

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Cuba: Artist named prisoner of conscience

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Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has become a leading voice of the San Isidro Movement (SIM), a diverse group of independent artists, journalists, academics and activists that defend freedom of expression in Cuba, originally created to protest Decree 349, a dystopic law that stands to censor artists in the country. 

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was taken by state security officials on 2 May 2021 from his home, the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, where he was carrying out a hunger strike reportedly in protest over his artwork being confiscated from his home. According to information from the NGO Cubalex and state media, he was taken to a hospital in Havana, the Centro de Urgencias del Hospital Universitario “General Calixto García.” 

As far as Amnesty International can ascertain, Luis Manuel has been held at the hospital, under supervision or control of state security officials and with very restricted visits from immediate family. He does not seem to have access to his telephone or the outside world. Pending his release, Luis Manuel Otero should be provided with medical care of his choice, be granted regular visits from family and friends, not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and granted access to lawyers of his choosing.

According to Cubalex, and Amnesty International documentation, state security officials have repeatedly had Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara under surveillance for months and he faced arrest by police if he tried to leave his house, in practice amounting to house arrest. Luis Manuel’s latest detention has occurred within a context of reports of harassment and intimidation against other members of the SIM and shows Cuba’s ongoing repression of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression in the country. 

Luis Manuel has been named a prisoner of conscience of Amnesty International twice already, in both cases for being detained solely for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression. He and members of the San Isidro Movement, as well as allies and journalists have also been under constant and frightening surveillance, which Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Team and researchers documented in December 2020.

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Díaz Canel


Cuban prisoner of conscience released

Roberto Quiñones Haces
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Cuba: Prisoner of conscience released

Roberto Quiñones Haces
© CubaNet 2019

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces, Cuban lawyer, independent journalist and prisoner of conscience, was released from prison on 4 September 2020, after serving his one-year sentence. Although it is good news that Roberto is finally home, his conviction and imprisonment for merely expressing his opinions, should have never happened. We will continue to monitor the situation after his release.





Opposition leader released from prison

Cuba Online Freedom
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Urgent Action outcome: Opposition leader released from prison

After being in detention since October 2019, José Daniel Ferrer García was sent to house arrest in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

3rd update on UA 134/19


Prisoner of conscience at risk of Covid-19

Cuban Human Rights Agenda
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According to information available to Amnesty International, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces, a lawyer an independent journalist at the news website Cubanet, was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison in August 2019 by the Municipal Court of Guantanamo for resistance and disobedience. He was arrested on 11 September 2019 and has been in prison ever since.

During his detention since September 2019, Roberto Quiñones Haces has been regularly reporting the prison conditions in which he is held. On March 31, he wrote in Cubanet that even though prison authorities had implemented certain measures regarding COVID-19, “the quality of the food is still deplorable. Despite reports of the vulnerability of older adults (prisoners over 60) to COVID-19, many of them are kept in cubicles where they live in overcrowded conditions with almost two dozen people.”

On March 5, he had already described the quality of food and water served in prison, as well as the medical attention available to prisoners. According to his family, he is allegedly held in a small cell with at least 17 other individuals, sharing beds and sanitary services in the same cell.  

International human rights standards regarding the rights of persons deprived of liberty or in detention are particularly relevant considering a global health crisis as COVID-19. In general, all prisoners must be granted protection and access to healthcare in the face of COVID-19, without discrimination. People who have no choice but to be in close proximity to each other face particular risk for COVID-19, based on the information currently available. 
In countries such as Cuba, activists, including political activists, and human rights defenders are regularly imprisoned solely for their consciously held beliefs. These people should not be in prison in the first place and should be immediately released. Therefore, our primary call under these circumstances is that Cuba should release all prisoners of conscience and those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their freedoms of expression and conscience. Roberto Quiñones Haces also has health affections that put him at increased risk, due to his age. Cuban authorities must release Roberto immediately and unconditionally, considering the risk that COVID-19 poses, besides his condition as a prisoner of conscience.

On 20 August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Office of the Special Rapporteur condemned the prison sentence against journalist Roberto Quiñones and expressed concern about the persistence of criminalization and harassment against communicators and human rights defenders in Cuba. The Office of the Special Rapporteur in a recent report on Cuba, found that state agents are the “main source of threats and attacks against the press” and called on this practice to be “dismantled and sanctioned.”

Amnesty International has found that the disproportionate and arbitrary use of the criminal law, and campaigns of state-sponsored discrimination against those who dare to speak out, coupled with discriminatory dismissals from state-employment, and the lack of an independent judiciary to challenge this, has created a profound climate of fear in Cuba.

Cuba remains the only country in the Americas which Amnesty International is not permitted to enter for human rights monitoring work.

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Artist opposing censorship at risk

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Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has become a leading voice of opposition against Decree 349 in Cuba.

Under the Decree, all artists, including collectives, musicians and performers, are prohibited from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture. Individuals or businesses that hire artists without the authorization can be sanctioned, and artists that work without prior approval can have their materials confiscated or be substantially fined. Under the decree, the authorities also have the power to immediately suspend a performance and to propose the cancelation of the authorization granted to carry out the artistic activity.

Such decisions can only be appealed before the same Ministry of Culture (Article 10); the decree does not provide an effective remedy to appeal such a decision before an independent body, including through the courts.

The decree contains vague and overly broad restrictions on artistic expression. For example, it prohibits audiovisual materials that contain, among other things: “use of patriotic symbols that contravene current legislation” (Article 3a), “sexist, vulgar or obscene language” (Article 3d), and “any other (content) that violates the legal provisions that regulate the normal development of our society in cultural matters” (Article 3g). Furthermore, it makes it an offence to “commercialize books with content harmful to ethical and cultural values” (Article 4f).

International human rights law and standards require that any restriction to the right to freedom of expression, 
including through art, must be provided by law and formulated with sufficient precision to avoid overly broad or 
arbitrary interpretation or application, and in a manner that is accessible to the public and that clearly outlines what
conduct is or is not prohibited.

As signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Cuba is required to refrain from
acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. Article 19 of the ICCPR specifically protects the right to
freedom of expression, which includes the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all
kinds…” including “in the form of art”.

Amnesty International has previously expressed concern that Decree 349 is likely to have a general chilling effect
on artists in Cuba, preventing them from carrying out their legitimate work for fear of reprisals.

Article 203 of the Penal Code, one of the provisions under which Luis Manuel appears to be charged, is inconsistent with international standards as its effect is to limit the right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International opposes laws prohibiting disrespect of heads of state or public figures, the military or other public institutions, or flags or symbols (such as lèse majesté and desacato laws).

Luis Manuel Otero was named a prisoner of conscience following his detention of 1 March. Although he was 
released on 14 March, the criminal procedure against him remains open, and he remains at risk of further detention. If Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is sent back to prison, he would revert to be a prisoner of conscience as all the charges against him stem solely from the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression.

His trial was originally scheduled for 11 March 2020 but was delayed until further notice.

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