A court in Havana left the trial against plastic artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel Castillo, the two most visible heads of the opposition San Isidro Movement (MSI), for whom the Prosecutor’s Office requests sentences of 7 and 10 years in prison, respectively. The activists are accused of the crimes of “attack”, “disrespect”, “public disorder” and “incitement to commit a crime”, among others, although various NGOs and their colleagues from the MSI assure that they are prosecuted only for their political activism and for defend their right to free expression and to criticize the Government, for which they demand their immediate release. The sentence will be announced in the coming days.
The trial against Alcántara and Castillo was held behind closed doors, without access to the foreign press or diplomats —staff from the embassies of Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom tried to access the room where the trial was taking place. oral hearing, but they did not receive permission from the authorities—, while various dissident activists and independent journalists denounced that during the two days of sessions a police operation prevented them from leaving their homes. Only a small number of relatives of the defendants were able to enter the court, which was cordoned off by the police at all times.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo have been in provisional prison since last year and are considered prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Both are the most visible leaders of the so-called San Isidro Movement, made up of a small group of opposition artists, creators and journalists who, for a little over four years, have promoted different performances critics, street actions, confinements and hunger strikes to make visible the lack of freedoms on the island and denounce police harassment for their dissidence.
Both were arrested dozens of times before their final arrest last year. In 2020 they participated in a hunger strike to demand the release of one of the members of the MSI, which had great international repercussions and ended when the police forcibly entered the premises where they were locked up. This motivated an unprecedented planting of young artists in front of the doors of the Ministry of Culture, on November 27 of that year. Since then, the MSI and its activists have been criminalized by the authorities, who have accused their members of being “mercenaries in the service of the US” to provoke “shows media” and “internal destabilization” with the aim of promoting a “regime change” on the island.
In April 2021, the two staged another unusual public protest when a group of neighbors prevented the police from detaining Castillo. He escaped by bicycle with handcuffs on one arm and later met with Alcántara at the MSI headquarters. There, sheltered by passers-by, they shouted slogans against the government and the president and sang the song Homeland and Life —in whose video clip Castillo, one of its authors, participated— which later became an opposition anthem during the historic demonstrations of July 11. “It is because of these events that both are now being judged in the same file,” denounced Anamely Ramos, also an MSI member and Castillo’s partner, who is not allowed by the authorities to return to Cuba after having left to study in Cuba. Mexico.
The rapper Mykel Castillo, better known artistically as osorbHe was arrested in May. For that flight from the police, he has also been accused of the crime of “prisoner evasion” in the trial held this week. For his part, Otero Alcántara was arrested on July 11 after summoning the population to demonstrate in Havana through social networks. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and other NGOs have called for the immediate and unconditional release of both.
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“Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara are being prosecuted for exercising their human right to criticize their government,” he said. Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “Latin American governments should not remain silent when artists are threatened with prison sentences, a display of extreme intolerance typical of the brutal dictatorships that ruled the region in the past,” she said. For her part, the director for the Americas of Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, indicated that “in a country where more than 700 people, including some under 18, are imprisoned simply for expressing themselves, it is of the utmost importance that these trials are subject to international scrutiny.
The trials against Alcántara and Castillo take place 10 months after the massive protests against the Government of 11-J that shocked Cuba, and for which hundreds of people have been sentenced to long prison sentences, in some cases of up to 30 years for sedition. In recent days, a dozen of the convicts who filed appeals before the Supreme Court have had their sentences reduced and others have had their sentences changed to correctional work without internment.
Relatives of the defendants, as well as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have denounced that the Cuban authorities have repeatedly offered to free Castillo and Otero Alcántara in exchange for them leaving the country indefinitely. “This is a practice that the Cuban government has carried out historically and with other critics in recent months and that violates the human right of every person to enter their country of origin,” said these NGOs. Otero Alcántara has publicly rejected the offer on several occasions. According to sources from the dissidence and the families, during the process they tried to demonstrate at all times that both “were not artists but simple criminals”, so they do not doubt that the activists could be subject to “exemplary punishments” to stop social response.
Castillo’s partner denounced that the rapper had to defend himself after his lawyer was taken from him two days before the trial began. “Less than 72 hours before the trial, the lawyer arrived saying that the firm had restricted her trials until August 1 and that, therefore, she would not be able to be at Maykel’s trial,” he told the AFP agency. “Maykel practically had to defend himself”, without witnesses in his favor, she added in a WhatsApp message.
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