Washington, D.C, Aug. 31, 2011 —The attacks and detention of human rights activists in Cuba—including members of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group of human rights defenders honored by Human Right First in 2006 —should stop immediately and those detained should be released, said Human Rights First today. According to reports, members of Damas de Blanco are among the human rights defenders in Cuba who have been targeted in recent weeks by the authorities, and some have been beaten.
“This most recent spate of harassing and intimidating activists has been going on for some weeks now, and dozens remain in detention,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “For the last month, the Ladies in White have been prevented from carrying out their weekly peaceful protest. These brave women have been targeted and physically assaulted by police as they go to and from Mass. We urge that the arrests and violence directed against peaceful human rights activists be halted immediately.”
The Ladies in White trace their roots back to 2003, when the Cuban government arrested and summarily tried and sentenced 75 human rights defenders, independent journalists and librarians to terms of up to 28 years in prison. Many of them were organizers for the Varela Project, a grassroots initiative for constitutional reform. The repressive move was roundly condemned by foreign governments, the United Nations and human rights organizations. Following the arrests, the wives and relatives of those imprisoned in the crackdown formed the Ladies in White. The last of the 75 dissidents was finally released in May 2011. The Ladies in White and other supporters—Ladies in Support—continue to peacefully protest for the release of others who they believe have been imprisoned due to their dissident activities. The groups recently spread their peaceful protests to eastern provinces.