Cuban dissident artists face trial and face years in prison | Political news

Two dissident artists have faced their first day of trial in Cuba after being detained nearly a year ago, in an ongoing legal process that human rights groups have called a “farce ” and “circus”.

Police and security forces surrounded the Havana court on Monday, while a small group of family members were allowed into the courthouse, an official from Cuba’s International Press Center told AFP. Reuters news agency.

The activists, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Maykel Castillo, are prominent members of the Havana-based San Isidro Movement, an artists’ collective that led several protests before many of the group’s members left Cuba, alleging repression.

Otero Alcantara, 34, is charged with defamation of the national flag, contempt and public disorder, and faces up to seven years in prison, according to a March 8 court filing seen by Reuters.

Castillo, 39, a rapper also known as Osorbo, was also charged with assault and faces 10 years in prison, according to the court document.

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 of several European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden, huddled a block from the court as they waited for the access for almost two hours after asking to enter and observe the procedure.

“We weren’t allowed to enter the courthouse,” a German embassy official said before leaving. The representative asked not to be named and declined to say why the group was denied access to the courthouse.

“We want human rights to be respected everywhere and in all countries,” the diplomat said.

Both Otero Alcantara and Castillo appeared in the music video for “Patria y Vida,” a provocative hip-hop song that became the unofficial “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 trials, or explain why access to the courthouse was restricted.

Cuban state media, including the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma, have accused the San Isidro de Castillo and Otero Alcantara movement of being part of a state-led ‘soft coup’ attempt. States – a charge the group denies.

The two men’s cases have become a lightning rod for activists and human rights groups, who allege Cuba has stepped up a crackdown following protests last year.

Last week, Human Rights Watch called the trials a “farce”, while Amnesty International called them a “circus”.

Cuba said those detained before and after the July protests received fair trials in accordance with Cuban law.

According to an audio recording shared on social media last week by other activists, authorities offered to release Otero Alcantara if he left the country, but he refused.

Otero Alcantara has also been the subject of protests from other artists after his arrest last year. He started a hunger strike and was hospitalized to demand the return of the works that the authorities had confiscated during his detention.

In a show of support, around 20 other prominent artists demanded that their works be removed from display at the National Museum of Fine Arts, which rejected the appeal.

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

Maritza Herrera, 66, said she came to show her support for her friends Otero Alcantara and Castillo. She said others were prevented from doing so or dared not.

“They know if they get here they’ll be put in a patrol car and taken to a [police] station. That’s why they’re not here,” she said.

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