Crime & Justice

Dissidents’ trial begins behind closed doors in Havana

Havana, May 30 (EFE).- The trial of Cuban artists and dissidents Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maiykel Castillo, known as “El Osorbo,” began on Monday in Havana amid heavy security measures.

Otero Alcantara and Castillo, for whom the prosecution is requesting seven and 10 years behind bars, respectively, have been in custody since last year and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have demanded their “immediate and unconditional” release.

The court proceedings, with sessions scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, began with the Marianao Courthouse surrounded by a police cordon that could only be breached by certain relatives of the accused, and neither reporters nor members of non-governmental organizations were allowed access.

Diplomats from The Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden came to the courthouse but authorities prevented their entry.

“We simply want to come in to observe the trial and up to now we have not received permission to do so,” said a German diplomat in remarks to international media outlets.

The diplomat added that they are following the case with “great attention,” noting that “We want human rights to be respected in all places and countries.”

Activists called the trial a farce and demanded a public, televised trial, with several of them complaining on the social networks that they had been prevented from leaving their homes and had had their Internet connections cut.

The official Cuban media has not reported on the trial.

The Cuban Attorney General’s Office in March made a written request, to which EFE received access, for seven and 10 years in prison, respectively, for Otero Alcantara and Castillo.

The former, the leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), has been in police custody since July 11,2021, and stands accused of insulting national symbols, disrespecting authority and public disorder. AI considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.

Castillo, a rapper, has been in prison since May 2021, and has been charged with the crimes of disrespecting authority, “defamation of state institutions and organizations, heroes and martyrs,” assault and public disorder.

The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has demanded Castillo’s immediate release, asserting that the court proceedings against him are illegal.

This trial is not linked to the antigovernment protests of July 11, 2021, but rather the pair have been charged with respect to controversial events that occurred on April 4, 2021.

On that day, Castillo, the co-performer of the song “Patria y vida” (Homeland and life) – an inversion of the Cuban Revolution motto “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death) and later the slogan of the July 11 protests – was arrested after an encounter with several law enforcement officers, apparently because his companion was not wearing a facemask in accord with government anti-coronavirus directives.

After the incident, Castillo fled with handcuffs around one wrist to the home of Otero Alcantara and from there shouted slogans against the government, according to prosecutors.

The singer was not arrested until a month later and since then he has remained in prison.

The prosecution said in its written documents that the two dissidents had committed other acts prior to their arrests that it claimed constitute crimes.

Among those alleged crimes are posting “writings offensive to the (Cuban) flag” on the social networks, publishing “memes” on Facebook to “ridicule and discredit” the Cuban president and accusing the government on the social networks of “failing to provide medical resources” during the pandemic.

Also charged in the case are three other Cuban citizens: Felix Roque Delgado (for whom prosecutors are asking for a sentence of five years in prison for assault), Juslid Justiz Lazo (five years of correctional labor and incarceration for assault) and Reina Sierra Duvergel (three years of correctional labor without incarceration for assault).

EFE lh/jpm/cpy/bp

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