The two artists, imprisoned for several months, are notably being prosecuted for disturbing public order. Washington and several NGOs are calling for their release.
“We do not have permission” to enter, told the press a diplomat who only identified himself as a “representative” of the German embassy.
In this trial are at stake “basic human rights, in our opinion, such as freedom, the right to free expression and to assemble freely”, he underlined.
With him, five other diplomats – from Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom – waited almost two hours near the People’s Municipal Court of Marianao, in the west of the capital, in the hope of being able to attend the trial.
Relatives of the two artists arrived earlier in the morning at the court, without making statements to the press. The building, where the defendants were admitted without being able to be seen by the journalists, was squared by tens of agents of the security of the State in plainclothes and some in uniforms.
– “Artiviste” –
Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, 34, arrested on July 11, 2021 when thousands of Cubans demonstrated in the streets of the island to cries of “We are hungry” and “Freedom”, is one of the leaders of the collective of protest artists San Isidro, launched in 2018.
He is accused of various crimes, including incitement to commit a crime, aggravated contempt, disturbing public order, all prior to July 11.
According to an audio recording of the artist released last week by several activists, the authorities offered him to leave Cuba in exchange for his freedom, but he refused.
The prosecution requested seven years in prison against him.
Hailed as one of the personalities of 2021 by Time magazine, the one who defines himself as “artivist” – contraction of artist and activist – multiplies provocative performances. In this trial, he is thus prosecuted for insulting the symbols of the fatherland after having fun carrying the Cuban flag on his shoulders for a month.
The prosecution is also demanding ten years in prison for Maykel Castillo known as “Osorbo”, 39, arrested on May 18, 2021 and accused of disturbing public order, contempt of justice and assault.
He is the co-author of the song “Patria y vida”, which has become a symbol of anti-government protests in Cuba and crowned by a Grammy Latino.
The image of this rapper, in April 2021, raising his fist with a handcuff attached after escaping an attempted arrest with the help of locals, had gone widely viral on the island.
– “Freedom” –
On Monday morning, Maritza Herrera, 66, who calls herself a friend of Otero Alcantara, approached the court: “Today, inside, we decide things that are really important to us”, including “his freedom”.
“Everyone wanted to be there but since they don’t let you out of the house by putting the police at the bottom of your house, how do you do it?” she commented, saying she was lucky to have made it this far. while several activists denounced being blocked at home.
The Office of Human Rights and Democracy of the US State Department criticized the holding of this trial on Friday.
“We are outraged that Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara is on trial,” he wrote in a tweet. “His crimes: his opinions and his art,” he added. “Free him and all political prisoners!”
“Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara are being prosecuted for having exercised their human right to criticize their own government”, also denounced in a press release Tamara Taraciuk Broner, director of Human Rights Watch on the American continent.
They “should never have spent a single day in prison”, added in the same press release Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of Amnesty International for the Americas.
Both have been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, on behalf of all those detained following the historic July 2021 protests, which left one dead and dozens injured.
Of the 1,395 people arrested, 728 are still being held according to the NGO Cubalex, based in Miami.