Cuba: 500 Detentions in February

Rights group also says political prisoner died after hunger strike.

Two Cuban human rights groups that report on arbitrary arrests recorded an increase in politically-motivated detentions in February compared with the previous month.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, CCDHRN, said there were 504 arrests of this kind, 140 more than last month, while noting that the true figure could be higher given that comprehensive information is hard to come by.

The Hablemos Press Information Centre, CIHPress, whose data do not cover all of Cuba’s provinces, reported 471 arrests and detentions, 169 more than its January figure.

The high number recorded each month stems from the repeated use of short-term detention as a form of intimidation, as well as arrests that lead to prosecution and trial. (See Political Detentions Treble in Last Three Years on annual trends.)

CCDHRN recorded the death of political prisoner Antonio Ribalta Junco, 44, on February 16. He had spent 38 days on hunger strike protesting his innocence.

More broadly, the group said 20 inmates of Cuban prisons had died in the last five months. Such deaths could, it said, “on occasion constitute homicide through negligence”.

Journalists, bloggers and photojournalists are at particular risk of being detained.

Independent journalist Héctor Julio Cedeño Negrín was held for 13 days and has not yet recovered from the effects of the hunger strike he undertook. (House Arrest for Cuban Journalist.)

Another journalist, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, has spent the last six months in jail, and the authorities have yet to give his lawyer access to his case files. (See Cuban Journalist on Second Hunger Strike.) 

On February 28, writer Angel Santiesteban Prat was sentenced to five years in prison for assault. CIHPress believes the real reason he was imprisoned was his criticism of the government.

CIHPress reports that a number of foreign nationals were detained on February 14 for taking photos of a political protest in a central Havana park. On February 24, a Brazilian journalist was detained in the Miramar neighbourhood for photographing members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) movement.

The authorities also harasses activists and dissidents by keeping them and their families under surveillance, and orchestrating “acts of repudiation” in which crowds surround and attack their homes.

Hugo Damian Prieto, a member of the Hard Line and Boycott Movement, suffered nine such attacks on his home in Havana in under 72 hours. This came soon after he and other dissidents put up a poster bearing the name of Orlando Zapata, a political activist who died in prison after an 80-day hunger strike in 2010.

Camilo Ganga is the pseudonym of a journalist living in Havana, Cuba.

This article first appeared on IWPR's website.