A court in Havana today sentenced two prominent Cuban artists to lengthy prison terms, concluding a trial that human rights organizations have called a thinly veiled trial. example of the state’s attempt to silence dissenting voices.
Artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been sentenced to five years in prison for contempt, disturbing public order and “insulting the symbols of the homeland”, according to a statement released today by the Attorney General’s Office of Cuba. The announcement alluded to Otero Alcántara’s use of the Cuban flag during artistic performances, photos of which were widely shared on social media.
Rapper Maykel Castillo was found guilty of contempt, public disorder and “defamation of institutions and organizations, heroes and martyrs”. This latest accusation relates to a meme posted by Castillo last year criticizing communist leaders. He will serve nine years in prison.
Both designers have 10 days to appeal their convictions, state media reported.
In a message to HyperallergicOtero Alcántara’s partner, curator Claudia Genlui, called the sentences a “great lack of respect and injustice”.
“They condemn them for making art,” she said.
In a statement, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, called the trials “a shameful example of the human rights crisis caused by the Cuban government’s decades-long policy of repression.”
“Luis Manuel and Maykel are both artists who have used art as a means of expressing their views on social, political and economic conditions in Cuba,” Guevara-Rosas continued. “These are two emblematic examples of how the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel uses the justice system to criminalize critical voices, including by charging alleged crimes incompatible with international law.
Otero Alcántara and Castillo are just two of the several hundred Cubans sentenced to prison in recent weeks for crimes related to the mass protests that rocked Havana last summer – the biggest protests the country has seen since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Earlier this month, the The Cuban government announced that it had sanctioned 381 people297 of whom were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 25 years.
A founding member of the dissident San Isidro movement, Otero Alcántara has for years been outspoken in his criticism of Cuba’s communist government under President Miguel Díaz-Canel.
He was arrested on his way to a protest in Havana in July 2021 and has since been held in a maximum security penitentiary outside the capital. (The artist went on two hunger strikes to protest his treatment at the facility.) Otero Alcántara was appointed to TIMEit is list of the 100 most influential people in the world last September.
Castillo, who goes by the stage name Osorbo, was among the co-writers of the popular protest song “Homeland and Lifewhich became the unofficial anthem of last summer’s 11J protests and won a Latin Grammy award this year. He was arrested in May last year and has remained in custody ever since.
The two men appeared before a judge in a pair of trials behind closed doors May 30 and 31.
Cuban artist Coco Fusco told Artnet News in an email that the sentences “constitute gross injustice and further evidence of the lack of rule of law in Cuba.”
“Imagine Dread Scott, David Hammons and Bettye Saar being jailed for their renditions of the American flag,” Fusco said. “That’s what happened to Luis. Billie Holiday was punished for singing ‘Strange Fruit’ during segregation. Maykel is now being punished for singing about the repression of her people by a dictatorship.
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