CubaBrief: 4 Cuban political prisoners sentenced to house arrest; hundreds remain unjustly jailed in Cuba. Center calls on human rights orgs to push for their freedom.

CFC welcomes the news of the release of José Daniel Ferrer García together with José Pupo Chaveco, Fernando González Vaillant and Evert Luis Hidalgo of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who had been jailed alongside the opposition leader in October 2019 and subjected to the same political show trial in February 2020 that fell far short of international standards for a fair trial.  Furthermore, José Daniel and the three other activists were sentenced under house arrest.  The Center for a Free Cuba was able to confirm that  Ferrer García  was sentenced to four and a half years house arrest.  José Daniel made statements to Radio and TV Marti and with Rosa Maria Paya of Cuba Decide.

March 11th marked six months since independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces began serving a one year prison sentence. The Cubanet journalist ” was arrested by agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR for its initials in Spanish) on April 22 when attempting to cover a trial, as reported by Article 19 of Mexico and other organizations in a joint note.”

Mr. Jesús Quiñones was covering the trial of “two Christian homeschoolers, Pastor Ramón Rigal of the Church of God in Cuba, and his wife Ayda Expósito,” were sentenced to prison “for refusing to send their children to government-run schools,” and began serving their sentence on April 19, 2019. Ayda was released on March 28, 2020, but her husband Jesús remains jailed.

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones is not alone, there are five other prisoners of conscience recognized by Amnesty International: Josiel Guía Piloto, Silverio Portal Contreras, Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, Eliecer Bandera Barrera, and Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá, over 127 political prisoners, and over 8,000 Cubans charged with “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones

Roberto de Jesús Quiñones

With the threat of the  SARS-CoV-2  it becomes an urgent necessity to obtain their freedom to save their lives. This is why OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro on April 1, 2020 declared over social media that “in the face of the # COVID19 pandemic and lack of sanitary conditions in Cuba’s prisons, asking to free thousands of innocent Cubans who suffer political imprisonment or are in prison without having committed a crime is fair and necessary.”

Below is the text of an email sent by the Center to human rights organizations urging that they redouble their efforts to obtain the freedom of Cuba’s political prisoners. Amnesty International has called on Egyptian authorities to release political prisoners due to the threat of COVID-19, they and others should make the same demand of the Castro regime.

Amnesty International, April 3, 2020

Cuba: Opposition leader sentenced to house arrest after trial tainted by irregularities

3 April 2020, 20:22 UTC

In response to Cuba’s main opposition leader, José Daniel Ferrer García, being convicted today for “injuries” and “privation of liberty” and sentenced to four and a half years of house arrest, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said:

“Although it’s good news that José Daniel Ferrer García can finally go home, instead of remaining in prison, where he would be at greater risk of COVID-19, his conviction and sentencing is still shameful. He should have never been detained for peacefully expressing his ideas in the first place. The Cuban authorities have made it clear once again that they do not tolerate critical voices and shown their outright disdain for freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.”

José Daniel Ferrer García was reportedly held incommunicado after what appeared to be an arbitrary detention last October. Amnesty International later received reports that he may have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated.

Although it’s good news that José Daniel Ferrer García can finally go home, instead of remaining in prison, where he would be at greater risk of COVID-19, his conviction and sentencing is still shameful. He should have never been detained for peacefully expressing his ideas in the first place

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

The Cuban authorities prevented the press, the European Union and Amnesty International from monitoring his trial on 26 February. On the day of his trial, Cuba’s Ministry of Justice tweeted that José Daniel Ferrer would get a fair trial, but in the same tweet called him “a common criminal”, in violation of his right to the presumption of innocence.

“With detainees at increased risk from the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge the Cuban authorities once again to immediately release all prisoners of conscience, including independent journalist Roberto Quiñones Haces and five members of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba currently imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing their ideas,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/cuba-opposition-leader-sentenced-house-arrest-trial-tainted-irregularities/

Center for a Free Cuba, April 3, 2020

Letter sent to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UNHRC’s Working Group on Arbitrary detention this afternoon.

Dear friends,

I am writing to thank you for your efforts during the last six months to obtain the release of four Cuban political prisoners:  of José Daniel Ferrer García, José Pupo Chaveco, Fernando González Vaillant and Evert Luis Hidalgo of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU.

All of them were arbitrarily detained, charged with false accusations, denied their basic rights and subjected to a political show trial that ran afoul of international standards for a fair trial.

The European Union and Amnesty International were not permitted to attend the “public” trial. The courthouse was surrounded by police to intimidate the accused, their families and anyone concerned about their mistreatment.

The Court denied them most basic procedural safeguards, they were seriously mistreated while in prison.

The sentencing was scheduled for March 12, 2020, but in violation of Cuban statutes they were not sentenced until today to house arrest. The Center was able to confirm that Jose Daniel was sentenced to four and half years under house arrest.

The government offered not to prosecute Ferrer in exchange for him leaving the country.

We are writing to urge you to do everything possible to obtain their release from house arrest. Human rights organizations around the world joined Amnesty’s appeal for their release.

We are also urging you to redouble efforts to obtain the release of current prisoners of conscience Josiel Guía Piloto, Silverio Portal Contreras, Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, Eliecer Bandera Barrera, Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá, and Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces.

With the threat of the  SARS-CoV-2 virus their freedom and the freedom of 127 other Cuban political prisoners, and over 8,000 Cubans charged with “pre-criminal social dangerousness” becomes an urgent necessity to save lives.

Cuba and the European Union are negotiating a number of political and economic issues. Their release and the release of all Cuban political prisoners should be a requisite for the negotiations to continue.

After more than sixty years in power, diplomacy as usual is not likely to succeed.

Respectfully,

John Suarez

Executive Director

Center for a Free Cuba

https://www.cubacenter.org

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, April 3, 2020

USCIRF Welcomes Release of Ayda Expósito, Calls for Release of Other Religious Prisoners of Conscience in Cuba

Adya Expósito Levya (left) and her children

Adya Expósito Levya (left) and her children

Washington, DC – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today welcomed the release of Adya Expósito Leyva, the wife of Pastor Ramón Rigal.

The couple was imprisoned on April 16, 2019 for homeschooling their children based on a concern regarding Cuban schools’ promotion of socialism and atheism. They were later sentenced for crimes including “other acts against the normal development of a minor.” Pastor Rigal remains in prison serving a two-year sentence, along with independent journalist Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, who was imprisoned for trying to cover the pair’s trial and then sentenced for the crime of “disobedience.”

“While we welcome the release of Expósito and are particularly relieved that she can be reunited with her children, we believe that she should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “The charges brought against her and her husband are part of the Cuban government’s harassment, discrimination, and arbitrary detention of individuals simply seeking to practice their religion.”

Cuban prisons are overcrowded and frequently lack sanitary conditions, which are dangerous situations amid efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. In light of COVID-19, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almargo, called on Cuba to release political prisoners and others detained that have not committed crimes. Quinones has been named one of the most urgent cases threatening press freedom during the coronavirus crisis.

More than ever during this global pandemic, the Cuban government must release Pastor Rigal and Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, along with others held in Cuba for their beliefs or advocacy of religious freedomWith the coronavirus spreading on the island, the conditions in Cuban prisons are a ticking time bomb. We implore the Cuban government not to further punish individuals for their most deeply held convictions by keeping them behind bars despite the present danger,” said Commissioner Gary Bauer.

In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF listed Cuba as a Tier 2 country for engaging in or tolerating violations of religious freedom that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act. USCIRF recently released a policy update detailing religious freedom conditions in Cuba during 2019.

https://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/press-releases-statements/uscirf-welcomes-the-release-ayda-exp-sito-calls-release-other