(New York / Miami /London) — Amid mass demonstrations throughout Cuba, an unprecedented number of artists, writers, and musicians have been arrested, detained, and disappeared in the last week. In a joint statement today, PEN International, PEN America, and PEN Cuban Writers in Exile expressed their solidarity with Cuba’s creative community and condemned the Cuban state for muzzling independent thought, action, and ideas.
“PEN is a global voice standing up for Cuban writers and artists who fear losing their freedom and who cannot speak, dissent, write, demonstrate, or criticize their reality freely through art, literature, and journalism. The writers of the world are looking out for each of our colleagues on the island. They are not alone,” said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.
“What we have seen in Cuba in the last several weeks is a very troubling escalation of the Cuban government’s assault on artistic freedom of expression. We stand with Cuba’s artists, writers, and creatives, and we will fight for their right to create what they want to create—without state approval and without fear of reprisal, torture, or worse. We condemn the Cuban authorities for this assault on freedom of expression in the strongest possible terms and call on President Javier Miguel Díaz-Canel and his government to immediately release all artists who have been unjustly detained,” said Julie Trébault, the Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection.
Following the outbreak of mass demonstrations in Cuba on 11 July, authorities have responded brutally to protesters through the use of police violence, arbitrary detentions, house arrests, and the restriction of internet and social media access—all in an attempt to control the flow of information and communication between Cuba and the rest of the world.
PEN International and PEN America have received numerous reports of threats, detentions, assaults, and police surveillance of the homes of authors, artists and reporters as well as their relatives. Many people report that they fear retaliation from the authorities if they attempt to investigate the whereabouts of their missing relatives. According to these reports, at least two artists and composers whom PEN International had contacted earlier this month are incommunicado or reportedly missing.
Ángel Santiesteban, a Cuban writer and the winner of the 2020 Vaclav Havel Award, told PEN International that, after participating in the 11 July protests, he sought out a safe place to hide and avoid arrest. The author reported at least five operations by state security agents attempting to arrest him, and while he has so far evaded capture, he remains at risk.
On Friday, the Cuban writer Javier L. Mora was arrested by state security agents and released on Sunday. According to public reports, the writer was detained in the city of Holguín after his resignation from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), which the author shared on social media. He was charged with crimes against state security for participating in the demonstrations.
Cuban journalist Camila Acosta, a correspondent for the Spanish newspaper ABC, was arrested on 12 July and released four days later. During her detention, her work equipment was confiscated and she has been under house arrest since 16 July.
The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, leader and coordinator of the artists’ collective known as the San Isidro Movement, was arrested on 11 July during the demonstrations and has been transferred to a maximum security prison in Guanajay, accused of crimes including “public disorder” and “resistance.”. He was previously arrested in late April and detained for nearly a month before being released.
On 17 July, Human Rights Watch reported at least 400 people detained or disappeared for their participation in the protests, while Cubalex reported today at least 500 people detained or disappeared. On 16 July, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for the urgent release of all people who have been detained for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly or freedom of opinion and expression.
PEN International, PEN America, and PEN Cuban Writers in Exile, along with 40 international organizations, reiterate their calls on the Cuban government to respect the right to demonstration and free expression.
The organizations call on the Cuban authorities:
- To cease immediately its systematic police and judicial harassment of independent writers, artists, and journalists, such as Ángel Santiesteban and the journalist Camila Acosta;
- To facilitate the urgent release of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, unjustly detained and imprisoned;
- To stop the cruel and sustained harassment of artists, musicians, writers, intellectuals, and critical and independent journalists on the island;
- To stop inciting violence by calling on supporters to take to the streets and confront protesters;
- And to guarantee that artists, writers and journalists can exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisal.