Cuban artists and dissidents Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez “El Osorbo” were sentenced this Friday to 5 and 9 years in prison, respectively, in a sentence harshly criticized by NGOs and international human rights organizations.
The sentences -which can still be appealed- were made known through a press release from the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Cuba (FGR) this Friday morning.
Otero Alcántara was found guilty of the crimes of “outrage against the symbols of the country, contempt and public disorder.” El Osorbo was sentenced for “disrespect, attack, public disorder and defamation of institutions and organizations, heroes and martyrs.”
This decision is announced almost a month after the trial that was carried out in the court of the Havana municipality of Marianao on May 30 and 31.
The Prosecutor’s Office had requested 7 years in prison for Otero Alcántara, leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) and imprisoned since July 11; and 10 years for Castillo Pérez, co-author of the song “Patria y vida” –anthem of the July 11 anti-government protests– and imprisoned for more than a year.
From the beginning, the process against both artists – described as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International (AI) – was criticized by international NGOs, who spoke of impeachment, fabrication of evidence, lack of guarantees and limitations on access to hearings.
The cause was not linked to last year’s anti-government protests, but to events that occurred on April 4, 2021. That day, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, Osorbo had a run-in with some agents, apparently caused because his companion was not wearing a mask.
Castillo Pérez managed to get away, with handcuffs on his wrist, and went to Otero Alcántara’s house, from where he shouted slogans against the regime, according to the account of the events by the FGR.
The Prosecutor’s Office also collected previous facts in his petitions, such as “offensive writings against the flag” on the networks and publication of “memes” on Facebook to “ridicule and discredit” the Cuban dictator, Miguel Díaz-Canel.
In addition to them, the Court sanctioned Juslid Justiz Lazo and Reina Sierra Duvergel with 5 years in prison for attacking opponents Félix Roque Delgado and 3 years of correctional work without internment. The court considered it proven that all of them had helped Osorbo to resist his arrest.
In its note released this Friday, the Prosecutor’s Office reported that the court considered it proven that Otero Alcántara had “the express intention, sustained over time, of offending the national flag, by publishing photos on social networks where he is used in acts degrading”.
The FGR alluded to the Drapeau performance, in which the MSI leader used the flag on his body for a month.
Likewise, it maintained that Castillo Pérez “used false images” to “outrage, affect the honor and dignity of the country’s highest authorities.”
IMAGES IN THE OFFICIAL PRESS
Various European ambassadors and human rights organizations tried unsuccessfully to gain access to the court during the trials. The hearings were held in the midst of a strong police operation in the vicinity of the court.
Although international and independent media were not allowed to enter, hours after the convictions were made public, the official press on the island published images of the trial for the first time.
State television stressed that the sanctions have nothing to do with the political beliefs of Otero Alcántara and Osorbo, but rather for having committed “common crimes.”
Along the same lines, the official Cubadebate website published a chronicle of the hearings -with the title “Common crimes will never be political”- in which it criticized the “media manipulation” surrounding the process.
The FGR highlighted in its statement that “the defendants were heard” and that “in their presence the testimonial, documentary and expert evidence proposed” by both parties.
The sentences received a barrage of criticism from NGOs such as Cubalex, PEN International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and AI.
In a statement released this Friday, Cubalex stressed that the crimes for which they were punished “are not compatible with international human rights standards” and go against freedom of expression.
The organization also stressed that behind the penalties is “the State’s criminal policy to achieve a deterrent effect, to prevent the rest of society, out of fear, from expressing themselves freely.”
In a similar tone, Erika Guevara-Rosa, director for the Americas at AI, spoke on Twitter, calling the sentence “shameful” and the trial a “judicial circus.”
Juan Pappier, HRW’s senior researcher for the Americas, joined Guevara-Rosa’s criticism: “This decision is a farce that openly violates freedom of expression and association,” she said.