Political Detentions in Cuba Top 5,000

Some await trial, while many are detained for shorter periods to disrupt their work as journalists or rights activists.
  • Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Árias. (Photo: Hablemos Press)

More than 5,600 Cuban dissidents, journalists and rights activists were detained or arrested between January and the start of November, a leading human rights group reports.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, CCDHRN, recorded 520 detentions in October alone, bringing the total for the year to 5,625. The figures were “consistent with the high level of political repression in Cuba over recent years”, the group said.

The Hablemos Press Information Centre, CIHPRESS, gave a lower figure of 4,542 for the same ten-month period, although its records do not cover all of Cuba’s provinces.

The two groups targeted most were Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) – women campaigning for the release of relatives imprisoned in the “Black Spring” of 2003 – with 23 detentions in October; and the Patriotic Union of Cuba with 28.

CIHPRESS noted 22 cases where independent journalists and bloggers were detained in the same month.

One reason for the high number of detentions is the Cuban authorities’ tactic of using repeated short-term internment to harass anyone who criticises the system.

For example, Yoani Sánchez, perhaps Cuba’s most famous blogger, was arrested on October 4 en route to attend a trial, held for 30 hours and then released.

Sánchez had been following the trial of Spanish politician Ángel Carromero, who was charged in connection with the death of Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a car crash in July. On October 15, Carromero was found guilty of manslaughter while driving, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Similarly, journalist Yosbel Ramos Suárez was detained twice in October, once to prevent him visiting human rights defender Vladimir Alejo, and again to stop him attending a church service.

But not all detentions end quickly. Four dissidents were convicted in October – Emilio Plana Robert and Rafael Matos Montes were given three-and-a half and two-and-a-half years respectively; Reinaldo Castillo Martínez was sentenced to a year and Alberto Ramos Prados to a year-and-a-half.

CCDHRN notes that six individuals arrested in September are still awaiting trial, including independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Árias. He is accused of “disrespecting” Cuba’s present and former leaders Raúl and Fidel Castro – a criminal offence that can carry a three-year sentence. (See Cuban Journalist Faces Charge of Insulting Castros on his case.)

A number of political prisoners were also released. 

Damas de Blanco member Niurka Luque Álvarez and 17 others from the group were freed on October 5 after being held since March. And Amnesty International reported that Antonio Michel Lima was released on October 26, two years and a day after he and his brother were arrested for the crime of listening to hip hop music with lyrics criticising the lack of freedom of expression.

Ivette Martínez is an independent journalist in Mexico. This story was first published on IWPR’s website.