Today Amnesty International launches “Write a letter of hope”, a global solidarity action inviting the public, during the 2021 holidays, to write individually to five brave human rights defenders detained in Cuba to express support and solidarity with them and all those incarcerated only for exercising their rights.
“Despite the unfairness of it, many of those held in detention since this year’s protests in Cuba will spend the upcoming holidays away from their loved ones, simply for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression. During the holidays, we are asking those who believe in human rights to show their solidarity and write a letter of hope to Esteban, Thais, Maykel, José Daniel, and Luis Manuel to let them know they and many others are not alone and forgotten in these hard times”, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“Through this action we are also letting the Cuban authorities know that we will not stop until these five prisoners of conscience, whose cases represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of people who likely deserve the designation, are immediately and unconditionally released, and until the decades-long policy of repression and human rights violations in the country is totally stopped. We have been watching you and will continue to do so.”
Thousands of people took to the streets of Cuba on 11 July to peacefully protest over the economy, shortages of medicines, the government’s response to Covid-19, and harsh restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, in one of the largest demonstrations seen in decades. The authorities responded by detaining and criminalizing to different degrees nearly all those who tried to, or were found to be, protesting. According to the NGO Cubalex, hundreds remain detained. Before the July protests and after, many human rights defenders, independent journalists, artists and political activists have been arbitrarily detained, forced to be confined in their homes or constantly harassed simply for demonstrating or attempting to participate in manifestations. In August, Amnesty International named six prisoners of conscience, only one of whom has been released so far. These emblematic cases represent only a tiny fraction of the total number of people who likely deserve the designation, but they serve to highlight some of the patterns of abuse being committed by Cuban authorities and the policy of repression that pre-dates the 11 July crackdown.
Despite the unfairness of it, many of those held in detention since this year’s protests in Cuba will spend the upcoming holidays away from their loved ones, simply for peacefully exercising their freedom of expressionErika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
To join this action, people are welcome to write a simple message on paper, construction paper, DIY-card or store-bought card; or to record a video with encouraging words, and post them on Facebook and or Twitter, tagging the accounts of the prisoners of conscience as described below and using the hashtag #LaLlamaEterna. The following provides an update to the available information on each prisoner of conscience.
1.Thais Mailén Franco Benítez is a human rights activist who participated in the peaceful protest on Obispo Street on 30 April 2021 and was charged with “resistance” and “public disorder.” While initially imprisoned in El Guatao prison, Havana, since September Thais has been under de facto house arrest pending her trial. Her charges have not been dropped, nor she says, has she been given a hearing date or sentence on her case.
According to her testimony, she is under constant surveillance or threat of surveillance by state security officials who she says told her not to leave her home and threatened her with further charges if she continued her activism. On at least one occasion, state security officials detained her at a police station for at least 3 hours, and according to her testimony, threatened her not to continue publishing on social media.
In early December, she told Amnesty International, “I don’t leave my house because I am afraid. They (state security officials) call my house. They tell me they are watching me… My house is a prison.” According to a medical document and Thais’ own testimony, she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Amnesty International has previously documented how Cuban authorities arbitrarily detain activists, independent journalists and artists under house arrest. This involves security officials being positioned permanently outside of a person’s house and threatening them with arrest, or actually detaining them, if they leave. In other cases, prosecutors or courts have formally mandated house arrest.
You can share your message of hope with Thais on Facebook: Thais Freedomforever and Twitter: @Freedomforever
2. José Daniel Ferrer García is an activist and leader of the unofficial political opposition group “Patriotic Union of Cuba.” José Daniel tried to attend the island-wide demonstrations held on 11 July with his son, however, was detained shortly after leaving his home by law enforcement officials.
For weeks after this detention, his whereabouts was concealed amounting to an enforced disappearance for the purposes of Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to which Cuba is a state party.
In early October, the authorities permitted his son, with whom he was initially detained, to visit him for 20 minutes. Since then, the authorities have permitted two other family visits.
According to Jose Daniel’s family, and several phone calls with him, which last approximately five minutes and were made public by his family, he has reported having various health conditions, including repeated headaches, a cough, trembling hands, loss of vision, difficulty sleeping, and at one point difficulty breathing. His family say the authorities have not provided adequate medical treatment for these conditions.
Jose Daniel has also been placed in solitary confinement on several occasions, according to his family, which may be aggravating these health conditions, and may violate the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. Jose Daniel is charged with “public disorder,” according to a court document, but no date is set for his hearing. He is detained in prison Mar Verde, Santiago de Cuba.
You can share your message of hope with José Daniel on Facebook: José Daniel García Ferrer and Twitter: @jdanielferrer
3. Esteban Rodríguez is an independent journalist for ADN Cuba, who was detained on Obispo street in Old Havana on 30 April along with some 12 other people for peacefully protesting in support of Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who was on a hunger strike under severe police surveillance outside his home.
After being diagnosed with Covid-19 in June, Esteban remains in pre-trial detention at Combinado del Este prison accused of “resistance” and “public disorder.” According to sources close to him, he has lost weight and at various points was on a hunger strike in protest over his detention.
You can share your message of hope with Esteban on Facebook: Esteban Rodriquez
4. Maykel Castillo Pérez, known by his stage name Maykel Osorbo, is a Cuban musician and human rights activist. He is one of the authors of “Patria y Vida,” a song critical of the Cuban government that was adopted as a protest anthem, and for which he and other artists won “song of the year” at this year’s Latin Grammys in November.
According to those close to him, after Maykel used a phone call to record a public message of thanks for receiving the Grammy and dedicating it to the Cuban people and artists, Cuban authorities have banned him making regular phone calls. Mykel is suffering from various health problems, according to those in contact with him.
Maykel has been held in pre-trial detention since 18 May for charges of “assault,” “resistance,” “evasion of prisoners and detainees” and “public disorder.” However, more than six months since his detention, no date has been set for his trial. He is imprisoned in 5 y Medio, in Pinar del Río, Cuba.
You can share your message of hope with Maykel on his Facebook page: Maykel Osorbo 349
5. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is an artist and member of the San Isidro Movement, a group that mobilized initially in opposition to a law which stands to censor artists. He was detained on 11 July after posting a video saying he would join the protests and prior to this had been named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience on three occasions.
According to those close to him, authorities permit family visits every 15 days, and 3-to-4-minute phone calls twice a week, although he’s been denied his visit and call rights many times. According to a court document issued in response to a habeas corpus petition, Luis Manuel appears to be charged with “public disorder,” “contempt,” and “incitement to commit a crime” and is held in pre-trial detention at Guanajay prison.
You can share your message of hope with Luis Manuel on his Facebook page: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara
Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience determination is based on the information available to Amnesty International regarding the circumstances leading to the person’s detention. In naming a person as a Prisoner of Conscience, Amnesty International is affirming that this person must be immediately and unconditionally released but is not endorsing past or present views or conduct by them.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: [email protected]