Cuba: San Isidro movement and allies under frightening levels of surveillance

Members of the San Isidro Movement – the group of Cuban artists, academics, and other alternative thinkers who garnered global attention by staging a rare protest outside the Ministry of Culture on 27 November – as well as independent journalists covering their story, are under frightening levels of surveillance and face arrest by police and state security officials if they leave their houses, which amounts to house arrest, said Amnesty International today.

“The disturbing level of restrictions to which activists and independent journalists are now being subjected is like something out of an Orwell novel set in Havana’s palm-lined streets. The police presence outside their homes, and constant threat of arrest, is so relentless that activists are essentially being imprisoned in their own homes,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The surveillance and harassment we are seeing is unacceptable under international law as it violates the rights to privacy and in many cases it constitutes a deprivation of liberty, or at least unlawful restriction on freedom of movement. We will continue to monitor this alarming situation.”

Over the space of two weeks, Amnesty International researchers gathered testimony from activists describing police surveillance details outside their homes, risk of arrest should they try to leave, and restrictions placed on where they can go. The organization’s researchers and its Crisis Evidence Lab analysed and verified the location of photos and videos documenting this surveillance outside the homes of approximately 11 activists, some who are living with other activists.

The disturbing level of restrictions to which activists and independent journalists are now being subjected is like something out of an Orwell novel set in Havana’s palm-lined streets
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

In most instances, the photos show one or more marked police cars parked on the street corners outside the activists’ homes. In other instances, plain clothed individuals, who activists believe are also state security officials, appear in the photos, often on motorbikes.

In the photos received from activists between 1 and 13 December, Amnesty International researchers observed 24 different marked police cars. Several activists had at least five different police vehicles parked outside their home over that same period.

Anamely Ramos González and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who Amnesty International named prisoners of conscience following the raid on the San Isidro headquarters in Old Havana on 26 November, are just two of the activists who have almost permanent surveillance outside their homes.

Following the raid, Anamely Ramos González, like most of the other activists at the headquarters, was taken home. But after she tried to leave again in the early hours of the 27 November, she was arbitrarily detained and alternating state security vehicles drove her around Havana and its outskirts for more than 12 hours. She told Amnesty International there were always four officials present, mostly men. She was eventually released to a home where she is now staying with another activist.  

On 11 December, Anamely told Amnesty International that she has only been able to leave home once in more than 10 days. “Really, it’s very uncomfortable… They search people who come, they ask for their identification… They have searched their pockets… You feel isolated.”

On the occasion she did leave to go to the Mexican embassy, it was only with the permission of the state security officials permanently located outside her house, three of whom took her there. A doctoral student in anthropology at Mexico’s Ibero University, Anamely believes authorities allowed the visit to the Embassy because “it suits” the authorities for her to leave the country.

According to Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a vocal voice in the San Isidro Movement, following the raid on the 26 November he was taken to hospital where state security officials monitored him day and night in his room. Since 2 December, the day after he was returned home, he says he has had permanent surveillance on the street corners outside his house. He says a new security camera has also been placed directly facing his front door. “The camera moves with me,” he told Amnesty International. “If I go outside, they will arrest me… Eighty percent of my friends are under surveillance.

As of 11 December, according to information provided to Amnesty International by the San Isidro Movement, and according to information verified by Amnesty International, at least six activists, including Anamely Ramos González, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Maykel Castillo Pérez, Esteban Lázaro Rodríguez López, Niovel Alexander Tamayo, and Osmel Adrián Rubió Santos have been under almost permanent surveillance for nearly two weeks.

The surveillance and harassment we are seeing is unacceptable under international law as it violates the rights to privacy and in many cases it constitutes a deprivation of liberty, or at least unlawful restriction on freedom of movement. We will continue to monitor this alarming situation
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Other activists and independent journalists, including Óscar Casanella, Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho, Katherine Bisquet, Camila Ramírez Lobón, Osmani Pardo Guerra, and Iliana Hernandez, have also had surveillance either permanently or on specific days outside of their homes, mostly since early December, according to the San Isidro Movement and material reviewed by Amnesty International. Given the scale of the surveillance, it is likely that many more activists and independent journalists are facing a similar situation.

On 13 December, blogger Yoani Sanchez reported on Twitter that her husband, the independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, was detained, questioned for four hours, and later released. Independent journalist Luz Escobar has also been under regular surveillance, according to other reports.

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