Human Lives Human Rights: One year after they were unfairly sentenced to five and nine years in prison, respectively, in a legal process that violated the guarantees of a fair trial, the Cuban authorities must immediately and unconditionally free artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez.
“The Cuban authorities continue to arbitrarily detain Luis Manuel and Maykel as part of a repressive strategy that aims to imprison anyone who disagrees with them. These detentions seek to intimidate activists and silence freedom of expression in Cuba.”
“These convictions show the cruelty that President Díaz-Canel’s government is ready to impose on anyone who criticizes the Cuban authorities. The authorities must stop using the criminal justice system to repress the population and take the necessary steps to ensure 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 co-wrote the song “Patria y vida”, which criticizes the Cuban government and has become a protest anthem. He was arrested at his home on 18 May 2021 by security officials and has been in prison ever since.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is a member of the artistic collective Movimiento San Isidro, which has opposed a law that censors artists. He was detained 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 peacefully and spontaneously demonstrated in dozens of cities to demand a change in living conditions in Cuba.
During the protests, thousands of people criticized the lack 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.
Amnesty International reported on the details and context of the detention of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez in 2021 and declared both artists prisoners of conscience, as they have been imprisoned only for peacefully exercising their human rights.
Both artists were accused of the crimes of “contempt” and “public disorder”, crimes that the Cuban government frequently uses to criminalize activists and political opponents. The definitions of these crimes in the Criminal Code are vague and they are used arbitrarily to justify imprisoning people for acts that should not be criminalized, such as criticizing or insulting an authority. The new Cuban Penal Code, which entered into force in December 2022, not only maintained these provisions in force, but increased the minimum penalties applicable for these crimes.
In addition, Luis Manuel was charged with “insulting national symbols” and Maykel with “defaming institutions, organizations, heroes and martyrs”. Both are crimes that unduly limit the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in international human rights law.
Amnesty International has also denounced the Cuban courts’ lack of real independence, especially in politically motivated cases where they show undeniable deference to the Attorney General’s Office and where convictions of political dissidents are virtually certain.
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 allowed. 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 show the cruelty that President Díaz-Canel’s government is ready to impose on anyone who criticizes the Cuban authorities.
Rights groups say that the criminal proceedings and the sentences in which they ended were a mockery, devoid of any respect for the minimum guarantees of a fair trial. The sentences must be annulled and those affected immediately and unconditionally freed. The government must also ensure that neither they, nor their families or associates, suffer repression for asking for justice in these cases.