The Cuban authorities must release artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International said today, one year since they were unjustly sentenced to five and nine years in prison, respectively, in a legal process that did not respect the guarantees of fair trial.
“The continued arbitrary detention of Luis Manuel and Maykel is part of a pattern of repression based on imprisoning at all cost those who disagree with the authorities. These detentions are intended to have a chilling effect on activism and to silence freedom of expression in Cuba,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“These convictions are a sign of the cruelty that President Díaz-Canel’s government is willing to inflict on anyone who criticizes the Cuban authorities. The authorities must stop using the criminal justice system to repress the population and take the necessary measures to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the Attorney General’s Office.”
Maykel Castillo Pérez, known as “Osorbo”, is a musician and human rights activist. He is co-writer of the song “Patria y vida”, which criticizes the Cuban government and has been adopted as a protest anthem. He was detained at his home on 18 May 2021 by security officials and has been in prison ever since.
The continued arbitrary detention of Luis Manuel and Maykel is part of a pattern of repression based on imprisoning at all cost those who disagree with the authorities.Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a member of the artistic collective Movimiento San Isidro, which has opposed a law that censors artists. He was arrested on 11 July 2021 in Havana after announcing in a video that he would join the protests that same day, along with thousands of others who demonstrated peacefully and spontaneously in dozens of cities to demand a change in living conditions in Cuba.
During the protests, thousands of people criticized the shortage of food and medicine, the inadequate electricity system and the restrictive measures taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Authorities responded with a wave of widespread repression across the country. During the protests and in the following weeks, hundreds of people were arbitrarily and violently detained; many of them were charged and prosecuted for various crimes. According to the organization Justice 11J, as of 7 June 2023, 773 people detained during the 2021 protests were still deprived of their liberty.
In 2021, Amnesty International documented the details and context of the detention of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and named both artists prisoners of conscience, as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.
Both artists were charged with the crimes of “contempt” and “public disorder”, crimes that the Cuban government commonly uses to criminalize activists and political opponents. The definitions of these crimes in the Criminal Code are ambiguous and they are used arbitrarily to justify imprisoning people for acts that should not be considered crimes, such as criticizing or insulting an authority. The new Cuban Penal Code, which came into force in December 2022, not only kept these provisions in force, but increased the minimum penalties applicable for these crimes.
In addition, Luis Manuel was accused of “insulting national symbols” and Maykel of “defaming institutions, organizations, heroes and martyrs”. Both are crimes that unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in international human rights law.
Amnesty International has also criticized the Cuban courts’ lack of genuine independence, particularly in politically motivated cases where they display undeniable deference to the Attorney General’s Office and where convictions of political dissidents are virtually guaranteed.
Judicial authorities systematically conduct these trials in closed sessions, without public access. A family member of the accused may attend, but no human rights defenders, journalists or diplomatic representatives are admitted. Amnesty International has repeatedly requested access to various trials of activists or political dissidents, without receiving a response from the authorities.
Among the actions of Luis Manuel and Maykel that the court considered criminal are the posting of texts and images of political protest on social media, such as a meme referring to the authorities, photographs on the beach with the Cuban flag, participating in demonstrations and singing a protest song in the street.
These convictions are a sign of the cruelty that President Díaz-Canel’s government is willing to inflict on anyone who criticizes the Cuban authorities.Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
In this and other cases documented by Amnesty International, the courts take into consideration inconsequential aspects of the life of the accused that should have no relevance in criminal matters. For example, the court has used as evidence their jobs or trades, relationships with other people and their participation in guild associations linked to the government. In the case of these two prisoners of conscience, the court noted that Luis Manuel Otero “met with antisocial elements with low moral standards” and that Maykel Castillo “met with antisocial elements”.
Amnesty International considers that the criminal proceedings and the sentences in which they culminated were a farce, devoid of any respect for the minimum guarantees of a fair trial. The sentences must be quashed and those affected immediately and unconditionally released. The government must also ensure that neither they, nor their families or associates, suffer repression for asking for justice in these cases.