(New York, NY) — Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been incarcerated in a high-security prison since July, began a hunger strike this week in protest of his imprisonment and continued repression against artists in the country. PEN America and PEN International today condemned the Cuban authorities for their ongoing persecution of artists and activists and called for their immediate release. 

“We are both sad and infuriated that Luis Manuel has been kept in prison to the point that he is willing to sacrifice his health and his body in his fight for freedom,” said Julie Trébault, the Director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The governmental campaign against Luis Manuel has been long and cruel, not to mention arbitrary, once again demonstrating the Cuban government’s determination to extinguish independent voices. Our thoughts are with Luis Manuel and his friends and family, and we call on the Cuban authorities to immediately release the artist and drop the charges against him. His life may depend on it.” 

“Artists in Cuba have begun a hunger strike because they feel they have no other choice. This is a consequence of the repression and corruption of the Cuban authorities, of the absence of an independent and impartial judiciary. In a democracy, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara would not be imprisoned; in a democracy, he would not be making this decision; in a democracy, artists, writers and journalists are not persecuted as a consequence of their work. There is no ideological or political discourse that justifies censorship. We remind the Cuban authorities that ‘In all circumstances…works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion,’” said Romana Cacchioli, Executive director of PEN International.

Otero Alcántara is a leader of the San Isidro movement, a collective of Cuban artists, journalists, and intellectuals, and co-author of the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem of the mass protests across the island in late July. On September 15, Otero Alcántara was included in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list, with an entry written by artist Ai WeiWei. On September 28,the song “Patria y Vida” was nominated for “Best Song of the Year” at the Latin Grammy Awards. 

Otero Alcántara began his hunger strike on September 27 in the maximum-security prison of Guanajay, where he has remained imprisoned after being detained on July 11 of this year. On September 6, the Cuban Prosecutor’s Office charged him with the crimes of public disorder, contempt and instigation to commit a crime. Otero Alcántara began his hunger strike soon after recovering from Covid-19.

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.

**PEN America experts are available for interviews in English and Spanish. // Los expertos de PEN América están disponibles para entrevistas en inglés y español.**