(New York, NY) — Numerous Cuban artists were released from prison this weekend, including photographer and filmmaker Anyelo Troya, actor and poet Alexander Diego Gil, and plastic artist Carlos González. PEN America and PEN International today celebrated their release and called on the Cuban authorities to vacate the sentences against them, as well as to release all other artists that have been unjustly arrested or imprisoned in recent weeks.

“We are overjoyed to hear that Troya, González, and Diego were released from prison this weekend and were able to return to their families and loved ones,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Their only ‘crime’ was to exercise their right to artistic expression and to participate⁠—peacefully⁠—in mass demonstrations throughout Cuba. They faced criminal trials that were neither free nor fair, and in one case⁠—that of Carlos González⁠—did not even receive a trial at all before being sentenced. While the release of these three artists is most certainly a victory, there are countless artists, writers, musicians, and journalists who remain imprisoned or disappeared. Until each and every artist is free, we will continue to raise our voices on their behalf. We call on the Cuban authorities to release them immediately and to cease their unending harassment and censorship of independent thought.” 

“We welcome the releases of these Cuban artists and writers who were unjustly detained for doing their work, for raising their voices through art or peaceful protest. No writer, journalist or artist should be imprisoned for using their freedom of expression and their artistic freedom. Their release is not enough — the sentences against them must be vacated immediately,” said Romana Cacchioli, executive director of PEN International. “The Cuban state censors critical voices and protests in order to control information and create a single discourse. The high number of arrests, disappearances and unjustified imprisonments demonstrate the crisis of freedoms and human rights on the island.”

Mass demonstrations have broken out across Cuba in recent weeks, fueled by a growing frustration over the numerous problems plaguing the country, including food shortages, power outages, and lack of appropriate medical services to respond to COVID-19. Police and security forces have carried out arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against peaceful protesters, with news outlets reporting that almost 700 people have been detained or disappeared. 

Artists have been at the forefront of the protest movement for months, with groups such as 27N and the San Isidro Movement criticizing the government for its iron grip over free expression in the country and calling for reform. They have paid a steep price for their activism: Troya, Gonzalez, and Diego Gil are active members of this movement, and all three were arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations on the island. 

Troya, who was one of the filmmakers and producers of the video for the protest anthem “Patria y Vida,” was arrested and found guilty for allegedly causing public disorder, and sentenced to a year imprisonment before being released. Diego, who was denied access to a lawyer, was initially sentenced to 10 months for causing public disorder before being released. Gonzalez was also sentenced, without a trial, to 10 months before being released. They are each appealing the sentences against them and are currently under house arrest, and it is currently unclear when or if they are expected to begin their sentences.

Last week, PEN America joined other PEN centers across the Americas in a joint statement condemning the Cuban government’s systemic harassment of writers, artists, and journalists. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk, and features an interview with Cuban artist Tania Bruguera about the state of free expression on the island. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.