PEN International Demands Immediate Freedom for Cuban Artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez, Persecuted Due to Their Pro-Democracy Activities
PEN International, together with fourteen human and civil rights organizations have called for the immediate release of Cuban artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Pérez, who stood trial on May 30 and 31 on trumped-up charges and have been detained since the summer of 2021. The Municipal Court of Marianao, based in Havana, will soon announce the conviction sentence for both artists, who are also members of the San Isidro Movement.
The human rights organizations strongly condemned the charges of alleged contempt, defamation, and public disorder brought against the artists, for which the Cuban Prosecutor's Office intends to sentence Otero Alcántara to seven years in prison and Castillo Pérez to ten.
“We stand in solidarity with Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez and call on the Cuban State to release them immediately and to cease its endless campaign of intimidation and persecution against these two talented and courageous artists and activists,” the groups said in a statement.
The statement signed by the organizations said:
“A conviction that lacks convincing evidence from the prosecutors against the artists would constitute a clear violation of their exercise of free expression and would confirm the criminalization of their artistic expressions, which are often implicitly critical of the government. Luis Manuel is a visual artist and founder of the San Isidro Movement. He was recently awarded the Oxi Award for Courage, which is conferred by the Oxi Day Foundation. Maykel Castillo was the winner of two Grammys for the song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem for the freedom and dignity of the Cuban people during the mass protests of July 2021. Both artists were recognized as Prisoners of Awareness by Amnesty International and they were awarded the Prize for Freedom by Freedom House. The artistic expression and activism of Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara have made them the object of intense surveillance, which has led to their respective detentions in Pinar del Río and in the maximum security prison in Guanajay where both have been under the precautionary measure of provisional prison since May and July 2021, respectively.
The charges filed against both artists reflect the contempt of Cuban authorities for freedom of artistic expression and an alarming tendency to employ persecution, arbitrary arrests, and accusations against dissenting voices. At its 92nd session, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Castillo Pérez had been arbitrarily detained for reasons related solely to his pro-democracy activism, and called on the Cuban government to release him.”
In 2018, a report on the human rights situation in Cuba from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) exposed the grave situation of harassment that numerous artists and journalists faced - meaning that they face severe harassment aimed at preventing them from expressing their social and political concerns through their art and work, and recommended "adopting the necessary measures to prevent and eradicate the criminalization of those who exercise the right to freedom of expression and association, including artists, political dissidents, human rights defenders, among others."
As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, the right to freedom of expression, and artistic creation, Farida Shaheed, stated in 2013, "Artistic expression is not a luxury, it is a necessity, a determining element of our humanity and a fundamental human right that allows everyone to develop and expresses their humanity.
The Cuban state must comply with its international human rights commitments, especially those contracted for its role as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, dropping all charges against Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and releasing them.
Given the relentless efforts of the Cuban state to stigmatize and persecute Otero Alcántara and Castillo due to their artistic expression and criticism of the government, we urge the embassies that are present on the island, the European Union, the UN Special Procedures, the IACHR, and the entire international community to speak out publicly against this clear violation of human rights and to promote by all possible means the immediate release of Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Their lives and their freedom depend on it.
Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), PEN America
Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa
Civil Rights Defenders
Diario de Cuba
Gobierno y Análisis Político AC
Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt (INSTAR)
Instituto Internacional sobre Raza, Igualdad y Derechos Humanos
PEN Cuba en el Exilio
Red en Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (RDDHCuba)