Amnesty International on Wednesday placed four jailed Cuban dissidents on its list of "prisoners of conscience," highlighting continuing and increasing repression on the island in advance of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the island next week.
Prisoners of conscience Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz
Up to three years in prison for singing a protest song in the street
Brothers Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz have been imprisoned since Christmas Day 2010. Both are members of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs (Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba) – an island-wide umbrella group of organizations, and the Republican Youth Impact Movement (Movimiento Impacto Juvenil Republicano). They are both independent journalists, and were co-founders of the online newspaper Candonga, which was closed by the Cuban authorities in 2009.
The brothers were arrested in the early hours of 25 December 2010 as they were holding a Christmas celebration with a group of family and friends at their home in the city of Holguín, eastern Cuba. They were playing songs by a Cuban hip-hop group which criticize the lack of freedom of expression in the country, and were dancing whilst holding the Cuban flag on the street in front of their house. Shortly after midnight officials from the Department of State Security and police officers arrived, accompanied by about 40 government supporters. The police entered by force and arrested the brothers, while an act of repudiation was carried out against the others in the house. Later the same day, police returned and arrested their father and mother as well as several other friends who were at the family house at the time. They were detained for several days before being released without charge.
Following a summary trial, Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel were sentenced to two and three years imprisonment respectively in May 2011 for “insulting symbols of the homeland” (ultraje a los símbolos de la pátria) and “public disorder” (desórdenes públicos). They are currently both being held at the La Ladrillera prison in Holguín Province. Antonio Michel is suffering from prostate problems and is reportedly not receiving sufficient medical treatment. He is also eligible for conditional release having served over half of his sentence, but the authorities have refused to respond to petitions from his family and lawyer. Their mother, Adisnidia Cruz Segredo, who is a member of the Ladies in White has repeatedly faced harassment from the authorities when attempting to travel to church on Sundays. She was detained for several hours by police on the morning of Sunday 26 February 2012, preventing her from attending mass with the other Ladies in White from Holguín Province.
Amnesty International believes Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel’s sentences to be politically motivated, relating to their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, and disproportionate to the alleged offences. The organization has adopted them as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
Prisoners of conscience Yasmín Conyedo Riverón and Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori
24 year-old Yasmín Conyedo Riverón and her 23 year-old husband, Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori have been detained since 8 January 2012 on charges of using “violence or intimidation” against a state official (“atentado”), which carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Yasmín is the representative of the Ladies in White in the province of Villa Clara and also an independent journalist. Yusmani is a member of the Las Villas Democratic Youth League.
They were arrested on the morning of Sunday 8 January 2012 at their home in the city of Santa Clara, in the province of Villa Clara, central Cuba. Government supporters carried out an act of repudiation in front of their house, apparently to prevent Yasmín from attending mass with other Ladies in White. Yasmín and Yusnami were both arrested and held at local police stations, along with seven other Ladies in White until 4pm the same day. A neighbour who is a local official from the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Cuba - PCC) accosted Yasmín as she was about to enter her home following her release. She insulted Yasmín and slapped her in the face. Yasmín’s aunt, who had emerged from Yasmín’s house, retaliated by slapping the PCC official in the face. Two police officers then proceeded to arrest Yasmín and Yusmani who had also just returned following his release from detention. Yasmín’s aunt has twice informed local authorities that it had been her who had slapped the PCC official, but they have refused to respond. The PCC official has herself asked the local public prosecutor to drop the charges against Yasmín and Yusnami.
Yasmín and Yusnami were also detained for several hours on 25 December 2011 as they tried to attend Christmas mass. Yasmín has a six-year-old daughter. Amnesty International believes their detention and possible sentencing is in response to their peaceful dissident activities and is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics. The organization has therefore adopted them as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
Read the Uncommon Sense Political Prisoners of the Week profile of the Lima brothers here.