On 18 May, Maykel Castillo Pérez (known as Maykel Osorbo), an independent musician, was arrested by the police in Cuba. Over the past three years, the Cuban authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Osorbo and his demands for fundamental freedoms and rights. He has reportedly endured more than 120 repressive acts of different kinds in this time. Following his most recent arrest, he has not been guaranteed due process.
The case of Osorbo is emblematic of the situation many dissident writers and artists face in Cuba. State-sponsored acts of violence and cases of arbitrary arrest have increased over the past year. Cuba remains in a devastating social, cultural, health and economic crisis, suffering food shortages and power outages and lacking adequate medical services to tackle the pandemic. The authorities treat peaceful criticism of government policies as criminal behaviour. This was shown on 11 July, when mass demonstrations swept through the country, the demonstrators seeking to draw attention to Cuba’s deteriorating sociopolitical conditions and demanding reform.
The government responded with widespread repression, including police violence, digital censorship and the passage of Decree Law 35, which penalises the publication of material critical of the government. Hundreds of arrests were made and many demonstrators temporarily disappeared or were forced to go into hiding. Several of the activists, writers and artists detained were subjected to trial without a jury.
Osorbo made his name as the co-writer of ‘Patria y Vida’ (‘Homeland and Life’). Since its release in February 2021, the song has served as a rallying cry for demonstrators across the island. The lyrics include the lines ‘No more lies, my people ask for freedom, no more doctrines./Let us no longer shout “homeland or death” but “homeland and life”.’ Osorbo is also a founder of Movimiento San Isidro, together with other Cuban artists and intellectuals, all of whom have suffered persecution as a result of their opposition to Decree Law 349, which was passed in 2018. This measure requires all public and private cultural activities to be approved by the Ministry of Culture, meaning that the authorities can effectively ban any form of artistic production they don’t like on arbitrary grounds. After protesting against the law, Osorbo was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He was released in October 2019 after serving a year in jail.
Since his latest arrest, Osorbo has been held in pretrial detention. He has been accused, among other things, of assault, resistance, ‘evasion of prisoners and detainees’, contempt, public disorder and ‘propagating the epidemic’. In the fourteen days immediately after his arrest, nothing was heard of him and his whereabouts were unknown. He is now being held in the Kilo 5 y medio prison in Pinar del Río, more than 160 kilometres away from his family. Long-distance detention is uncommon in Cuba among those who are in prison pending trial and it has affected the efforts of his defence team. His detention does not comply with international requirements or the Cuban criminal code.
Osorbo’s case has caught the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which granted him precautionary protection under Resolution 14/2021, which the Cuban government has ignored. According to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Cuba still has the most restrictive climate for the press in the Americas. Print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by Miguel Díaz-Canel’s one-party communist government and, by law, must act ‘in accordance with the goals of the socialist society’. Although the internet has opened some space for critical reporting, the state-owned internet service provider, ETECSA, blocks what it considers objectionable content and restricts access to some critical blogs and news platforms. The government targets critical journalists through harassment, physical and online surveillance, short-term detention, home raids and equipment seizures. At present, at least fifty artists and writers are under house arrest, under investigation or in prison in Cuba.
Readers might like to send appeals calling for the release of Maykel Osorbo and all those detained in violation of their right to free expression and assembly, and urging an end to police and judicial harassment and the arbitrary arrest and detention of Cuban artists, musicians and writers.
Appeals to be addressed to:
President Miguel Díaz-Canel
Hidalgo, Esquina 6
Plaza de la Revolución
La Habana, CP 10400, Cuba
Oscar Silveira Martínez
Minister of Justice
Calle O #216, entre 23 y 25, Vedado
Plaza de la Revolución
La Habana, CP 10400, Cuba
Her Excellency Bárbara Montalvo Alvarez
167 High Holborn
London WC1V 6PA
Fax: 020 7836 2602