Cuban dissident artist on trial, faces years in prison

Two dissident artists face first day of trial in Cuba In custody About a year ago, rights groups dubbed it a “farce” and a “circus” during the ongoing judicial proceedings.

Police and security forces surrounded the courthouse in Havana on Monday, and a small group of family members were allowed into the courthouse, an official at the Cuban International Press Center told Reuters.

Activists Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo are prominent members based in Havana San Isidro Movementan artist collective that led several protests before many left Cuba, claiming a crackdown.

otro alcantaraThe 34-year-old is charged with defaming the flag, contempt and disturbing public order, and faces seven years in prison, according to March 8 court documents seen by Reuters.

Rapper Castillo, 39, was also charged with battery and faces 10 years in prison, court documents show.

The two men’s cases have become a lightning rod for activists and human rights groups [File: Mayela Lopez/Reuters]

Representatives from the Havana embassies in several European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden, waited nearly two hours, huddled a block from the courthouse after asking to enter and observe the proceedings.

“We do not have access to the courts,” a representative of the German embassy said before leaving. The representative requested anonymity and declined to say why the group was denied access to the courthouse.

“We want all places and countries to respect human rights,” the diplomat said.

Otero Alcantara and Castillo both appear in the music video for “Patria y Vida,” a provocative hip-hop song that became the unofficial “national anthem” of the widespread anti-government Protests that erupted in Cuba last July.

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the trial, nor did it say why access to the court was restricted.

Cuban state media, including the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma, have accused Castillo and the San Isidro movement of Otero Alcantara of being American Orientation A ‘soft coup’ attempt – an accusation the group denies.

The two men’s cases have become a lightning rod for activists and human rights groups who claim Cuba was protest.

Human Rights Watch last week called trial A “farce” and Amnesty International called them a “circus”.

Cuba said those detained around the July protests had received fair trials under Cuban law.

Authorities offered to release Otero Alcantara if he left the country, but he refused, according to recordings posted by other activists on social media last week.

Otero Alcantara was also the focus of protests by other artists following his arrest last year. He launched a hunger strike, hospitalized demanded the return of the works confiscated by the authorities when he was detained.

In a show of support, about 20 other prominent artists asked to have their work removed from the National Gallery’s exhibition, but were refused.

The streets outside the courthouse were quiet all day on Monday. Several activists and friends of the men said on social media that they were being watched by state security and barred from leaving their homes.

Maritza Herrera, 66, said she came to support her friends Otero Alcantara and Castillo. She said others were prevented from doing so, or were afraid to do so.

“They knew that if they got here they would be put into a patrol car and taken away [police] station. That’s why they’re not here,” she said.

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