(NEW YORK / LONDON) – The Artist at Risk Connection and PEN International today called for the immediate and unconditional release from prison of Cuban artist Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez, who has tattooed the words “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life) on his arm and sewn his mouth shut to protest the ongoing harassment and threats he has experienced in Kilo 5 y Medio, a maximum-security prison in Cuba.

The news of Maykel’s protest was first shared on Maykel’s profile on Facebook on Wednesday by Anamely Ramos, an academic, art curator, and activist. Maykel has been imprisoned since 2021, unjustly sentenced to nine years for his leadership of pro-democracy activism on the island. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that he is being held under arbitrary detention in violation of international human rights standards.

Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) Director Julie Trébault said: “Maykel Castillo has endured unrelenting and unfair treatment and we are deeply concerned about his well-being in light of the extreme measures he has taken to protest the constant harassment he faces in prison.”

Maykel Castillo has been subject to punishment cells, suspension of regular and conjugal visits, periods of solitary confinement, delays in providing him necessary medical attention, threats from other inmates, and constant visits from state security, among other acts.

“Maykel’s prolonged imprisonment exemplifies the Cuban government’s cruel and ruthless tactics to suppress dissent and suffocate artistic freedom and freedom of expression in Cuba,” said Trébault.

Ma Thida, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, said: “Maykel Castillo Pérez is unjustly imprisoned for exercising his right to free expression, for writing a song, for criticizing his country’s government. His case is emblematic of the situation faced by independent artists, writers, journalists, and human rights defenders in Cuba. It is a tragedy for the world that he has decided to sew his mouth because of this repression and the poor conditions in prison. Maykel must be released immediately.”


Maykel was arbitrarily detained at his home by state security officials without a warrant on May 18, 2021. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) Opinion No. 63/2021, concerning Castillo Pérez and decision considered the detention as arbitrary, contravening Articles 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The detention also fell under categories I, II, III and V of the definition of arbitrary detentions, as identified by the WGAD. Following his detention, he forcibly disappeared and subsequently was transferred to the high security 5 y Medio prison in Pinar del Río on May 31, 2021 where he currently remains. Following a closed-door trial with significant police presence, Maykel was sentenced in June 2022 to nine years in prison, in a “ruthless and inhumane” effort to punish them for their artistic expression and leadership in protest movements on the island.

On February 2, 2022, following a complaint by seven international NGOs to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, the United Nations finds that Maykel Osorbo, winner of two Latin Grammy awards, has been imprisoned solely for his pro-democracy activism and demands his release.

Maykel, along with Yotuel Romero, Descemer Bueno, Eliexer “El Funky” Márquez Duany, and Gente de Zona released the song “Patria Y Vida” which became the anthem for the mass demonstrations in Cuba on July 11, 2021.

In the past few years, Cuban artists have been increasingly targeted for their free and artistic expression, especially those who are independent or considered dissident. ARC, PEN International, and Cubalex spotlight 17 artists’ testimonies of forced exile, many of whom have also faced detention at the hands of Cuban officials in their new report Método Cuba: Independent Artists’ Testimonies of Forced Exile

About the Artists at Risk Connection

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.

About PEN International

PEN International promotes literature and defends freedom of expression. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. PEN International was founded in London, UK, in 1921, simply as PEN. Today it operates across five continents through 145 Centres in over 100 countries. PEN International is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057