(NEW YORK | LONDON) – PEN America and PEN International today condemned a six-year prison sentence imposed on Cuban musician Abel Lescay on Wed., March 30 on public disorder charges after his participation in the mass demonstrations against the government in Cuba last summer. PEN America and PEN International called the Cuban government’s sentence “arbitrary and cruel” and an alarming escalation in its ongoing persecution of artists and cultural figures.

“Abel Lescay is a brave and talented musician who should never have been in jail in the first place. We are horrified by the news that he has received this egregious six-year sentence for exercising his right to protest. His sentencing is a very worrisome development in the Cuban government’s relentless crackdown on artistic expression throughout the country, and sends a signal that many dissidents who have languished in pre-trial detention for months  – including artists and cultural professionals such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo – may soon be handed sentences themselves,” said Julie Trébault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC). “We stand steadfastly in solidarity with the Cuban artists and cultural professionals who have put their lives and livelihoods on the line for what they believe in, and now face entirely arbitrary and ridiculously long sentences in retaliation for expressing themselves freely and peacefully. We urge the Cuban government to respect their international obligations, stop harassing artists, and end this chilling campaign against free expression.”

“In its attempt to silence dissident voices, the Cuban authorities are pursuing cruel means of repression, in which, in addition to forcing its journalists, artists, and writers into exile, those on the island are imprisoned or kept under constant surveillance,” said Romana Cacchiolli, the Executive Director of PEN International. “While the authorities attempt to silence dissidents, we will continue to defend their voices internationally. PEN shall remain vigilant to the situation of artists and writers in Cuba and we reiterate our call for the Cuban authorities to immediately cease their systematic harassment and repression of artists and creatives.”

While artistic expression has been under attack in Cuba for years, the government escalated its crackdown on free expression after historic mass demonstrations broke out in July 2021 with artists on the frontlines. In the months following the protests, at least 50 artists have been under house arrest, imprisoned, or criminal investigation, and the campaign shows no signs of stopping. Lescay is not the only artist to receive a sentencing recently: Only three weeks ago, on March 10, poet María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez, who was first arrested on July 11 after participating in the protests, received a seven-year sentence on public disorder charges.

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.**

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057