Cuba: Amnesty International calls for release of artist and prisoner of conscience

Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely because of his consciously held beliefs, and should be released immediately, said Amnesty International today. A key leader in the movement opposing Decree 349, a dystopian law that stands to censor artists, he is detained and awaiting a trial that was initially expected on 11 March, but has since been delayed.

“It is absolutely shameful that the Cuban administration continues to stifle any voices that are not aligned with the official position. Luis Manuel Otero is a prisoner of conscience and we urge the Cuban government to release him immediately and unconditionally” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

According to the information Amnesty International has obtained, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara appears to be charged with “insults to symbols of the homeland” (Article 203 of the Penal Code), an offense inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, and “damage” to property (Article 339).

According to NGO Cubalex, in the past 30 months, authorities have arbitrarily detained Luis Manuel more than 20 times. Prior to his detention, he had announced on Facebook that he planned to participate in a protest convened by LGBTI activists after alleged state censorship of a movie featuring two men kissing.

It is absolutely shameful that the Cuban administration continues to stifle any voices that are not aligned with the official position. Luis Manuel Otero is a prisoner of conscience and we urge the Cuban government to release him immediately and unconditionally
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

In an interview with Amnesty International in 2019, Luis Manuel said: “I’m like the tip of the iceberg. We are talking about an endless number of artists in Cuba. [The authorities] come after me, because as I am supposedly the most visible of the youth, activists-artists, they send the message ‘Well, if we lock this one up, look what we can do to you lot.’”

Cuba is the only country in the Americas that prohibits Amnesty International from visiting.

The organization asks all artists, journalists and LGBTI activists to call on the Cuban authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

Background information

Under Decree 349, 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 new 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 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). 

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org