Press release May 26, 2021
Cuba: Authorities Must Immediately Release Artist and Activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara
Otero Alcántara was arbitrarily detained in early May and is being confined at a hospital for peacefully protesting repression and surveillance against him as well as the confiscation of his artwork.
In response to the May 2 arbitrary detention of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and his subsequent forced confinement at the Calixto García Hospital by Cuban state security forces, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Cuban government must immediately release Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara without conditions,” said Gerardo Berthin, director for Latin America and the Caribbean programs at Freedom House. “Otero Alcántara has been deprived of his freedom solely for expressing his political ideas in a peaceful manner. This arbitrary detention is illegal under Cuban law, and the Cuban state is failing to adhere to international standards of due process. Otero Alcántara should be given the right to make his own medical decisions. His family and friends should be given the right to visit him while he is under state detention at the hospital.”
“We are very worried by the continued escalation of violence against human rights defenders in Cuba. The Cuban government, which sits on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, should assure the rights of freedom of expression and association, and not attempt to undermine them,” concluded Berthin.
Press reports have indicated that before dawn on May 2, 2021, Cuban state security forces entered the home of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), and arbitrarily detained him. The artist had been peacefully conducting a hunger and thirst strike for eight days in protest of the illegal confiscation of his art by state security officers, as well as repeated arrests and permanent surveillance he has been subject to over the past year. State security officials transported Otero Alcántara to the University Hospital General Calixto García in Havana. There, he is being held under strict police surveillance without access to communication or to his friends and family, and is receiving forced medical treatment.
On May 6, 2021, the People’s Court of Havana denied a petition of habeas corpus presented on behalf of the artist, stating that he had not been criminally charged.
On May 21, 2021, Amnesty International recognized Otero Alcántara as a prisoner of conscience, and demanded his immediate release.
During a prior imprisonment on April 24, Otero Alcántara was held in a cell with inmates who physically threatened him for eight hours. Upon release, Otero Alcántara stated that the Cuban state used this tactic to “break [his] will as a conscious human being.”
On April 9, 2021, Freedom House and seven other international organizations called attention to the serious human rights violations occurring across the island. The statement called for an immediate end to the physical attacks against Otero Alcántara and other MSI members, in addition to an end to the ongoing and systematic short-term arrests carried out by the Cuban state against artists, journalists, and dissidents.
In November 2020, Otero Alcántara led a hunger strike that involved a dozen other MSI activists in Havana, which ended with a violent intervention by local police. Since then, the hostility against these activists has not stopped. Short-term arbitrary detentions have been used in a disproportionate manner, utilizing physical violence and mental abuse as tactics to silence dissent.
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