(New York, NY) – Cuban authorities’ ruthless, relentless campaign of intimidation and detention of artists over the past month poses grave concerns for both artistic freedom and human rights in the country, PEN America said today.

On November 26, police raided the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement in Havana, a collection of dissident artists and activists. That group has staged a series of peaceful protests that have met with an increasingly punitive backlash from authorities. After members of the group staged a poetry reading outside a police station, law enforcement surrounded their headquarters and placed it under siege-like conditions with constant surveillance for eight days.

“Cuban authorities’ blatant disregard for freedom of expression has triggered one of the most vicious and alarming cycles of brutality faced by artists in the country in recent memory,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “What began with the unjust imprisonment of a rapper in early November has quickly cascaded into a series of deplorable attempts to silence creative dissent. The idea that the government is engaged in the business of besieging artists is both farcical and appalling. Cuban authorities must immediately desist from their ongoing and increasingly reprehensible efforts to criminalize dissenting artists before lives are once again put on the line.”

The most recent crackdowns began in early November after the San Isidro Movement staged protests responding to the arrest and unjust sentencing of Cuban rapper Denis Solís. Solís was convicted for allegedly insulting a police officer who entered his home without a warrant. PEN America has declared the eight-month sentence, which Solís received in a summary trial with no lawyer present, as “more like a legal ambush than the administration of justice.” 

In mid-November, members of the San Isidro Movement began a hunger strike after police blocked food deliveries to their headquarters, leaving some members in critical condition. During the November 26 raid, police reportedly arrested the hunger strikers and evicted them from the headquarters on the grounds of health concerns related to the coronavirus. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the arrested hunger strikers and an organizer of the movement, was eventually hospitalized and surveilled until Tuesday, when he was released and then immediately detained and placed under house arrest shortly thereafter. Seeing the public outcry that arose following the raid and his hospitalization, Otero Alcántara and others suspended their hunger strikes.

Independent artists have faced increasing risks in recent years in Cuba, particularly in the wake of Decree 349, a 2018 regulation that gives authorities broad remit to regulate the cultural sector and criminalize artists who are not endorsed by the state. In June, at least 132 artists, journalists, and activists were victims of arrests, restrictions on leaving their houses, or internet service cuts when they participated in or reported on protests against police violence.

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. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.