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

(NEW YORK – LONDON) — Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo Pérez, artists and members of the San Isidro Movement, will stand trial on May 30 and 31 in the Municipal Court of Marianao, Havana. PEN International and PEN America condemn the unsubstantiated charges brought against the artists, the forthcoming arbitrary trial, and demand their immediate acquittal and release.  

“The arbitrary trials against two of Cuba’s most talented and outspoken artists and activists indicate nothing more than the targeted and forceful attempt by the Cuban government to silence dissident voices and extinguish artistic freedom of expression on the island,” said Julie Trébault,  director, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The cyclical nature of persecution against artists in Cuba is overwhelming and disheartening. We cannot sit idly by as artists risk their lives in the hope of a better future for themselves, their families, and their country. PEN America and our partners around the world will continue to oppose these trials and sentences that blatantly violate the rights of Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez and set an alarming precedent for the future of artistic freedom of expression in Cuba.”

Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara were detained in May and July 2021, respectively, following their participation in mass demonstrations last summer. If convicted, Castillo Pérez would face ten years of imprisonment, and Otero Alcántara seven, as outlined in a formal court order issued on March 8, 2022.

Romana Cacchioli, executive director of PEN International, said: “PEN will continue to expose the Cuban authorities’ strategies to silence writers, artists and journalists critical of their policies. These strategies, which include torture and lack of due process, violate human rights. The unjust trials against Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez are clear examples of how the Cuban authorities attempt to silence their own people. Although the authorities deny it, the world knows that these artists are innocent. We demand their release and a total halt to the persecution of all critical voices.”

Castillo Pérez is a Grammy-winning artist whose song Patria y Vida, became an anthem for protestors in Cuba leading up to and following the demonstrations that swept the country in July 2021. Otero Alcántara is a performance artist, who has spoken out critically on various issues affecting Cubans. The artistic expression and activism of Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara have made them subject to intense and scrutinous surveillance, eventually resulting in their respective detentions in Pinar del Río and the maximum-security prison of Guanajay.

The charges brought against both men reflect a blatant disregard by the Cuban state for artistic freedom of expression and an alarming trend of persecutions, arbitrary detentions, and charges against dissident voices. At its 92nd session, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Castillo Perez had been arbitrarily detained, for reasons relating solely to his pro-democracy activism and called on the Cuban government to release him.

In an audio recording from his prison cell at Guanajay on May 17, Otero Alcántara said: “I dream that no Cuban will be the enemy of any other Cuban. Today for these dreams I am ready to sacrifice the artist’s flesh, my artist’s flesh, and my freedom-loving spirit.”

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.

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.

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