CubaBrief: News on political prisoner conditionally released, and updates on three others still in prison and at risk

One partial bit of good news, but much still to worry about in Cuba’s prisons

This CubaBrief will touch on the cases of four political prisoners in Cuba. This is an extremely small sampling of what is a huge prison population. The New York Times on January 13, 2020 reported that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. Furthermore “that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being ‘antisocial’ or ‘dangerous,’ terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having committed a crime.” Furthermore, the article says that “records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners.” Sweden based NGO, Civil Rights Defenders, on the same day reported that ” approximately 8,400 Cubans currently serve time for ”pre-criminal social dangerousness”.

The Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, according to the January 13, 2020 article by EuropaPress, found that Cuba today has the largest per capita prison population in the world. The United States is no longer first according to this data.

The Cuban government does not allow visits to its prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross, or visits to the island by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Therefore these reports by NGOs such as CubaDecide, Race and Equality, and an international organization like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) are extremely important and need to be shared as widely as possible to protect Cuban political prisoners.

José Rolando Casares Soto

José Rolando Casares Soto

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) confirmed that Cuban political prisoner José Rolando Casares Soto was released under conditional liberty via a phone call with Mr. Casares on August 19, 2020.  … “Mr. Casares, an activist and member of the Cuban Youth Roundtable (Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana) was released from prison and rejoined his family; however, Race and Equality continues “to insist that the Cuban government grant him unconditional liberty and rescind his convictions, as well as that of his wife Yamilka Abascal Sánchez.”

Mr. Casares was one of the activists whose stories were highlighted in Race and Equality’s excellent report Premeditated Convictions, “which examined the Cuban government’s strategies for criminalizing its opponents. In July 2016, Mr. Casares and Ms. Abascal attempted to defend a friend who was being detained by the police. As a result, Mr. Casares was arrested and detained for a week. During his detention, he was forced to undergo a strip-search and interrogation. Authorities informed him that he would be charged with “assault” and “resistance,” but he was not informed of any proceedings until six months later, when he and his wife were summoned to trial.”

The Castro regime’s show trial was closed to the public and did not respect international standards of due process. The married couple were placed on trial together.

According to Race and Equality, “Ms. Abascal was convicted of ‘contempt’ and served a two-year ‘limitation of liberty’ sentence in their home, while Mr. Casares was convicted of ‘assault’ and ‘sexual obscenity.’ This second charge emerged due to the police’s claim that he had taken off his own clothing while being arrested, when in fact he was forced to do so as police searched for a flash drive containing information about the Cuban Youth Roundtable.”

Updates on Keilylli de la Mora Valle, Silverio Portal Contreras, and  Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces

The Center continues to monitor the cases of Cuban political prisoners who are at extreme risk and provide updates when they become available. The death of Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros on hunger strike on August 7, 2020 due to his unjust treatment by the Castro regime demonstrates the importance of highlighting the plight of Cuban political prisoners. Below are three cases who are presently at risk.

Keilylli de la Mora Vall

Keilylli de la Mora Vall

CubaDecide has been actively campaigning to raise awareness on the plight of  Keilylli de la Mora Vall. On July 24, 2020 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release announcing that a precautionary measure had been issued for Keilylli de la Mora Vall. Below is an excerpt translated to English.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued Resolution 37/2020 on July 17, 2020, by which it granted precautionary protection measures in favor of Keilylli de la Mora Valle, after considering that he is in a situation of gravity and urgency of risk of irreparable damage to their rights in the context of their deprivation of liberty in Cuba.

After analyzing the allegations of fact and law presented by the petitioners, the Commission considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Ms. Keilylli de la Mora Valle is in a serious and urgent situation, since her rights to life and personal integrity are at serious risk. Consequently, in accordance with Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR, it requests that Cuba: a) adopt the necessary measures to protect the life and personal integrity of Ms. Keilylli de la Mora Valle; b) agree the measures to be implemented with the beneficiary and her representatives; and c) report on the actions taken to investigate the alleged events that led to the adoption of this resolution and thus avoid its repetition. The Commission requested information from the State in the terms of Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure, without receiving its response to date.

Two days earlier on July 22, 2020 the windows of her prison cell were covered in pro-regime propaganda celebrating July 26th, an anniversary of the military assault of the Moncada military barracks by Castro’s rebels that failed, but made Fidel Castro a national figure. Below is an excerpt taken from Marti Noticias and translated to English.

Keilylli de la Mora Valle gave details of this latest incident in a telephone call whose recording was provided to Radio Martí by her lawyer Juan José López, of the Cuban Human Rights Law Firm.

In the call, De la Mora explained that this July 22 she woke up and the window of the cubicle where she is confined was covered with propaganda allusive to July 26, socialism and other slogans of the regime that were not in accordance with her political ideas.

In the recording she explained that “I considered that this was a provocation, I called the re-educator to remove them and I warned her that I also had posters made.”

In the program Wake Up Cuba, of Radio Martí, this Friday [July 24th], the lawyer López explained that what happened was a way of harassing people for their political ideas, and recalled that numerous abuses had been committed against the opposition.

This politicization of her prison cell is unacceptable, and the Center continues to call for her immediate release.

Silverio Portal Contreras

Silverio Portal Contreras

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) was pleased to announce on July 23, 2020 in a press release “that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has granted our request for precautionary measures for Silverio Portal Contreras. The request was submitted on June 5, 2020 and was granted this Wednesday. Portal Contreras is in a situation of grave risk and the Cuban government should follow the IACHR’s recommendations to take measures necessary to protect his life and personal integrity.”

Race and Equality provided the following background on the imprisoned Cuban human rights defender.

Silverio Portal Contreras is a Cuban political prisoner who was arrested in July 2018 while participating in a public protest. He is an independent activist who has supported various movements in Cuba, including the Ladies in White and the Opposition Movement for a New Republic. While in prison, his health has suffered significantly. He has suffered from thrombosis and consecutive ischemic attacks and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) that have left him partially paralyzed and with reduced eyesight because he did not receive adequate treatment for the conditions. His eyesight is also affected by a cardiac condition and because he was beaten in prison by prison authorities.

In a resolution in October 2019 denying Portal Contreras medical parole, the Provincial Tribunal of Havana recognized that Portal Contreras suffers from health conditions that put his health and life at risk, such as hypertension, ischemic cardiovascular disease, hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, and that he therefore requires “specialized follow-up to maintain his illnesses.” However, the judges decided that his state of health is “compatible with the penitentiary regime.”

Race and Equality filed for precautionary measures on Portal Contreras’ behalf after his wife, Lucinda Gonzalez Gomez, informed us that she had stopped receiving her scheduled telephone calls with Portal Contreras after he reported experiencing another TIA. Gonzalez Gomez also received several calls from other prisoners reporting that Portal Contreras had been severely beaten by prison authorities and placed in an isolation cell. The prisoners also told her that Portal Contreras was losing his eyesight because of the beating and lack of medical attention. At the time the precautionary measure request was submitted at the beginning of June, Gonzalez Gomez had had no communication with her husband for several weeks and feared for his life.

In the resolution granting the precautionary measures, the IACHR recognized the extreme situation of risk Portal Contreras is in, noting the “special severity” of the allegations given that the perpetrators are the same state authorities responsible for his care as a prisoner. The IACHR also noted the damaging and permanent effects the failure of the State to provide Portal Contreras with medical care can have, given his condition. The context faced by human rights defenders in Cuba was also a significant factor, which the IACHR described as being “characterized generally by a climate of hostility, persecution, and harassment, particularly with respect to those who have manifested opposition to the government.”

We share Race and Equality’s deep concern for the life and safety of Silverio Portal Contrerasand join in the call for his immediate release and that he be provided adequate medical care.

Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces

Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces

On August 4, 2020 Roberto José Quiñones Castro, a college student in the United States, campaigning for the freedom of jailed journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces, launched a blog for his imprisoned father (http://robertoquinones.com/ ). He also shared a video of an interview he did with Elicier Avila on this new blog, called for people of good will to transmit it and share it over different social media, and announced that his father’s book, La Chica de Nombre Eslavo (The Girl with the Slavic Name) was now available for sale on Amazon.com. Next month on September 11th will mark one year that prisoner of conscience Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Haces has been in prison.

 Partial list of identified Cuban political prisoners places the number in 2020 at 102. A full accounting is impossible due to the lack of transparency of the Cuban government.

Race and Equality, August 20, 2020

Race and Equality: The Cuban government must grant political prisoner José Rolando Casares Soto full and unconditional liberty

Race and Equality: The Cuban government must grant political prisoner José Rolando Casares Soto full and unconditional liberty

Washington, D.C., August 20, 2020.- On Wednesday, August 19, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) confirmed that Cuban political prisoner José Rolando Casares Soto was released under conditional liberty via a phone call with Mr. Casares. As an organization dedicated to defending and promoting human rights, we celebrate the fact that Mr. Casares, an activist and member of the Cuban Youth Roundtable (Mesa de Diálogo de la Juventud Cubana) has been released from prison and can rejoin his family; however, we continue to insist that the Cuban government grant him unconditional liberty and rescind his convictions, as well as that of his wife Yamilka Abascal Sánchez.

Mr. Casares was one of the activists whose stories were highlighted in our report Premeditated Convictions, which examined the Cuban government’s strategies for criminalizing its opponents. In July 2016, Mr. Casares and Ms. Abascal attempted to defend a friend who was being detained by the police. As a result, Mr. Casares was arrested and detained for a week. During his detention, he was forced to undergo a strip-search and interrogation. Authorities informed him that he would be charged with “assault” and “resistance,” but he was not informed of any proceedings until six months later, when he and his wife were summoned to trial.

Sentencing

The couple were tried together in a trial that was closed to the public and did not include guarantees of due process. Ms. Abascal was convicted of “contempt” and served a two-year “limitation of liberty” sentence in their home, while Mr. Casares was convicted of “assault” and “sexual obscenity.” This second charge emerged due to the police’s claim that he had taken off his own clothing while being arrested, when in fact he was forced to do so as police searched for a flash drive containing information about the Cuban Youth Roundtable.

Mr. Casares was originally sentenced to five years’ correctional labor without internment. On March 24, 2017, he was ordered to present himself at the state-run Civil Construction firm of his municipality but refused to do so in protest of his conviction. As a result, his sentence was changed to five years in prison.

After the order to appear on March 24, Mr. Casares did not receive another official communication from the court or the Ministry of the Interior (which oversees the penal system) and did not learn of his new sentence until he was arrested off the street, on his way to buy medicine for his children, on August 3. The five-year sentence is noteworthy for being longer than the 1- to 3-year sentences typically given to political prisoners.

Three years of suffering

Mr. Casares was held in Kilo 5 Prison in Pinar del Río until August 2019, when he was transferred to the Kilo 4 Penitential Center, a minimum-security facility. During his imprisonment, he suffered complications from a dental implant that was broken during his arrest, along with an intestinal prosthesis that he has had since childhood. On May 11, 2020, he was transferred to a hospital after suffering severe stomach pains for several days. At the hospital, he learned that he had a kidney stone. He received an injection for the pain but was not given any other treatment.

Mr. Casares has spent three years of life in prison, separated from his wife and children, for no reason other than his political beliefs. When he was arrested August 2017, his daughter was only 1 year old, and his younger son had just been born in April. “At last our children will enjoy the love from their father that they lost for three years … I will continue demanding the liberation of all political prisoners who are still incarcerated unjustly,” Ms. Abascal wrote on Facebook. During the family’s ordeal, Cuban security officials threatened her with the loss of custody of their children if she continued to denounce her husband’s treatment.

On August 18, the government finally approved Mr. Casares’ latest request for conditional liberty, allowing him to return home. However, he is still subject to various restrictions.

Upon being freed, Mr. Casares emphasized that other prisoners who have committed no crime remain in Cuban prisons and that he plans to continue exposing the inhumane conditions in which political prisoners are held.

Irregularities

Race and Equality has presented petitions to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Mr. Casares and Ms. Abascal’s behalf, documenting how both of their detentions were arbitrary in violation of Cuba’s international obligations.

Among the irregularities documented were the lack of a legal justification for their arrest, the lack of a court order to keep them in prison, authorities’ failure to inform them why they were being held, and Mr. Casares being held incommunicado for seven days without court oversight. The Cuban state has plainly violated their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

These rights violations are retaliation for the couple’s work with the Cuban Youth Roundtable to denounce the government’s abuses and seek electoral reform. Race and Equality demands that Mr. Casares be granted full, unconditional freedom and that his fundamental rights be respected.

https://raceandequality.org/es/espanol/raza-e-igualdad-el-prisionero-politico-jose-rolando-casares-soto-debe-obtener-libertad-definitiva/

Race and Equality, July 23, 2020

IACHR grants Race and Equality’s request for precautionary measures for Cuban political prisoner Silverio Portal Contreras

Washington, D.C.  July 23, 2020.- The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) is pleased that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has granted our request for precautionary measures for Silverio Portal Contreras. The request was submitted on June 5, 2020 and was granted this Wednesday. Portal Contreras is in a situation of grave risk and the Cuban government should follow the IACHR’s recommendations to take measures necessary to protect his life and personal integrity.

Silverio Portal Contreras is a Cuban political prisoner who was arrested in July 2018 while participating in a public protest. He is an independent activist who has supported various movements in Cuba, including the Ladies in White and the Opposition Movement for a New Republic. While in prison, his health has suffered significantly. He has suffered from thrombosis and consecutive ischemic attacks and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) that have left him partially paralyzed and with reduced eyesight because he did not receive adequate treatment for the conditions. His eyesight is also affected by a cardiac condition and because he was beaten in prison by prison authorities.

In a resolution in October 2019 denying Portal Contreras medical parole, the Provincial Tribunal of Havana recognized that Portal Contreras suffers from health conditions that put his health and life at risk, such as hypertension, ischemic cardiovascular disease, hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, and that he therefore requires “specialized follow-up to maintain his illnesses.” However, the judges decided that his state of health is “compatible with the penitentiary regime.”

Race and Equality filed for precautionary measures on Portal Contreras’ behalf after his wife, Lucinda Gonzalez Gomez, informed us that she had stopped receiving her scheduled telephone calls with Portal Contreras after he reported experiencing another TIA. Gonzalez Gomez also received several calls from other prisoners reporting that Portal Contreras had been severely beaten by prison authorities and placed in an isolation cell. The prisoners also told her that Portal Contreras was losing his eyesight because of the beating and lack of medical attention. At the time the precautionary measure request was submitted at the beginning of June, Gonzalez Gomez had had no communication with her husband for several weeks and feared for his life.

In the resolution granting the precautionary measures, the IACHR recognized the extreme situation of risk Portal Contreras is in, noting the “special severity” of the allegations given that the perpetrators are the same state authorities responsible for his care as a prisoner. The IACHR also noted the damaging and permanent effects the failure of the State to provide Portal Contreras with medical care can have, given his condition. The context faced by human rights defenders in Cuba was also a significant factor, which the IACHR described as being “characterized generally by a climate of hostility, persecution, and harassment, particularly with respect to those who have manifested opposition to the government.”

Although the granting of precautionary measures is an important step in drawing international attention to Portal Contreras’ case, he is still very much at risk. Prison authorities continue to deny Portal Contreras the medical care he needs. On Wednesday, Gonzalez Gomez received a call from her husband informing her that he is not receiving the medication he needs for a heart condition, and as a result is losing sight in both eyes. The prison doctor denies that Portal Contreras has a heart condition.

Race and Equality calls on the Cuban government to implement the recommendations the IACHR made in the resolution granting precautionary measures to Portal Contreras, including conducting an investigation to avoid repetition of similar events. Race and Equality is open for dialogue with the Cuban government to help implement these measures. We also urge the international community to follow Portal Contreras’ case and pressure the Cuban government to provide him with the medical care he needs and to release him from prison.

Read the Resolution (in Spanish) here.

https://raceandequality.org/english/iachr-grants-race-and-equalitys-request-for-precautionary-measures-for-cuban-political-prisoner-silverio-portal-contreras/