Via the human rights organization, Front Line Defenders:
Cuba: Ongoing brutal crackdown on human rights defenders during peaceful demonstrations
Since 17 July 2011, as many as seventy human rights defenders have been subjected to physical attacks, harassment, arrests and detentions while exercising their legitimate right to hold peaceful demonstrations calling for the release of political prisoners in Cuba. It is believed that these attacks form part of a brutal crackdown orchestrated by Cuban Government forces working under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior. Front Line expresses deep concern that similar attacks may be perpetrated against human rights defenders during similar demonstrations. Front Line previously issued an urgent appeal on 10 August 2011 following assaults on members of Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) by pro-Government groups and police officers on 7 August 2011 in Santiago de Cuba and Palmarito de Cauto, in the eastern province of Cuba. Damas de Blanco is a human rights organisation which advocates for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.
On 4 September 2011 eleven members of Damas de Blanco were detained in two cities in Matanzas province; 5 in Colon and 6 in Cardenas. Amongst the detained women were: Laura Pollán, Sara Marta Fonseca, Yaneris Perez Rey, Mercedes Evelin, Teresa Castellanos, Rosario Morales and Leticia Ramos Herreria, all of whom were released that evening. It is believed that María Teresa Castellanos, Mayra Morejon, Caridad Brunate Gómez, and Ivonne Mayesa remain in detention.
Between 26 and 28 August 2011, many protestors were arrested and held at various police stations throughout the province of Santiago de Cuba while attempting to hold peaceful demonstrations calling for the release of political prisoners. Specialised riot police used tear gas and violently beat protestors before taking them away to detention centres. It is reported that many of those detained suffered serious head injuries and required stitches, while others reportedly vomited up blood and fainted as a result of exposure to tear gas. Whilst those injured did receive medical attention they were not allowed to contact their families or legal representatives.
Although the majority of those arrested were released over the last number of days, Front Line has been informed of the names of seven human rights defenders, plus 3 relatives, who remain in detention as of 4 September: Messrs Miguel Rafael Cabrera Montoya, Bismarck Mustelier Galán, José Enrique Martínez Ferrer, Nivaldo Amelo Ramírez, Alexis Aguirrezabal Rodríguez, Alexis Yachoi Kuan Jerez and Víctor Campa Almenares. All seven are members of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Cívica Orlando Zapata Tamayo (National Front of Civil Resistance Orlando Zapata Tamayo).
They had been in the home of ex-political prisoner and member of the Secretariat of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Civica Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Mr Marino Antomarchit Rivero, in Palma Soriano on 28 August 2011 when police raided it. Marino Antomarchit Rivero’s mother, wife, and two-year-old daughter were in the house at the time of the raid. His daughter was taken out through the window so as to avoid being caught up in the raid. Riot police destroyed the furniture in the house and stole the family’s savings. It is further reported that police officers confiscated two computers, mobile phones, cameras, memory flash drives, notebooks, and hard drives. It is reported that 27 of those present were arrested at the time. The meeting had been organised in coordination with the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba), an organisation that has recently been founded by former political prisoner Mr José Daniel Ferrer García.
Marino Antomarchit Rivero, along with human rights defenders Messrs Jorge Cervantes and Guillermo Cobas, had been previously arrested on 26 August 2011, and therefore were not in the house at the time, although they have since been released.
On 28 August 2011, 13 women human rights defenders gathered at the home of Ms Aimeé Garcés Leyva. The women, who are members of Damas de Blanco, had planned to attend mass at the Santiago de Cuba cathedral, and afterwards hold a peaceful protest in the nearby streets. The house where they had gathered was surrounded by police cars and officers who subsequently entered the house, removed the women and beat them and twisted their arms. Ms Tania Montoya required medical attention as a result of an injury to her arm sustained in the beating. The women were placed on police buses which were then driven to nearby towns in the Province of Santiago de Cuba where they were released. On 27 August 2011 two members of Damas de Blanco, Ms Caridad Caballero Batista and Ms Marta Diaz Rondon, were beaten and sexually harassed, then detained, by police as they made their way to Aimeé Garcés Leyva’s home in Palma Soriano. The former suffered a fractured finger and both women were covered in bruises upon their release from the police station in Bayamo the same day.
Protests in the towns of El Cobre and Palmarita Soriano were also violently repressed by Government forces.
Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity and security of the members of Damas de Blanco, Frente Nacional de Resistencia Civica Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Unión Patriótica de Cuba and all other human rights organisations involved in peaceful protest actions, considering reports of ongoing brutal crackdown against them. Front Line believes that the human right defenders have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate work in the defence of human rights and expresses deep concern that these assaults may be repeated over the coming weeks.