CubaBrief: The Geneva Summit for Human Rights and the International Society for Human Rights “Very Important Stamps” campaign offer 2 examples of human rights as a single cause and global solidarity

There are fundamental truths that should be repeated as much as possible. This is especially the case when a situation arises that demonstrates the pertinence to a topic being discussed. This CubaBrief highlights the Geneva Summit for Human Rights that over June 7th and 8th brought together victims of repression from around the globe to provide them with a platform on the eve of the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva Switzerland in a demonstration of global solidarity between activists and non-governmental organizations.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas ( Born: February 29, 1952 – Martyred: July 22, 2012 )

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas ( Born: February 29, 1952 – Martyred: July 22, 2012 )

Meanwhile the International Society for Human Rights based out of Germany launched a prison mail initiative that uses postage stamps to highlight political prisoners and provide them protection. Both these efforts are examples of global solidarity and reflect the prophetic words of Cuban dissident and martyr Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas who in his December 17, 2002 speech accepting the European Union’s Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament explained the importance of human rights and solidarity and the consequences of their absence.

“The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized. If there is no solidarity between people we will be unable to preserve a fair world in which it is possible to continue living as human beings.”

The International Society for Human Rights released ten stamps in a campaign titled “Very Important Stamps”, of which two highlight Cuban political prisoners, and on June 8, 2021 highlighted both Denis Solís González and Pablo Moya Delá again over Twitter with the following graphics.

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Back in 2018 the Cuban rapper Denis Solís González posted a music video titled Sociedad Condenada (Condemned Society) on his Youtube account in which he sang about repression in Cuba and predicted his future with the lyrics “it maybe that they put me into prison cell for the weight of my voice, but I needed the courage to say the truth.” FreeMuse, the Danish NGO that advocates for artistic freedom of expression, reported on his November 9, 2020 arrest: “Rapper, activist and member of the San Isidro Movement Denis Solís González was detained in La Habana after sharing a video on 6 November of a police officer entering his house without a warrant, reports ADN Cuba.”

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Pablo Moya Delá will turn 66 on November 7, 2021 and has been jailed since September 2020 on fabricated charges by the Castro regime. His offense is being a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and being an active dissident. He was arrested while protesting against repression and shortages in stores. He was then taken to the Eleventh Police Station in San Miguel Padrón, Havana. There he carried out a 23-day hunger strike despite having fragile health due to various unspecified pathologies, according to his family, and was later transferred to Santiago de Cuba as an “illegal” — that is lacking the residency papers required to live in Havana — where he was held in La Territorial police station, in the Palma Soriano municipality until October 19, 2020. He was then shipped to Aguadores prison and on December 22, 2020 transferred to the maximum security prison Boniato. In late March 2021 he was diagnosed with COVID-19, acquired while incarcerated, but despite his age survived the deadly illness.

On June 8, 2021 the Geneva Summit for Human Rights made available the audio testimony of Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, after she was unable to address the human rights gathering the previous day because the Castro regime had shut off internet access. In her testimony, the Cuban dissident presented a number of examples of what happens in Cuba in the present day. Some of what she lists is so commonplace that it cannot be narrowed down to a particular incidence, but in others she gives information that identifies a specific incident.

For example when Ms. Bruguera said, ” imagine that you are Black and poor, and a policeman kills you. The government justifies the killing even if you were unarmed and shot in the back. Imagine that the police kill a poor young Black man and if anyone dares to say something or demonstrate publicly, they are arrested.” She was referring to a case less than a year old.

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Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano (age 27) is the poor young black man referred to by Ms. Bruguera in her statement.

On June 24, 2020 in Guanabacoa, Cuba 27 year old unarmed Black Cuban, Hansel E. Hernández was shot in the back and killed by the police. Officials claim that he was stealing pieces and accessories from a bus stop when he was spotted by two Revolutionary National Police (PNR in Spanish). Upon seeing the police Hansel tried to run away and the officers pursued him nearly two kilometers. They claim that during the pursuit Hansel threw rocks at the police. Police fired two warning shots and a third in his back killing him. Hansel’s body was quickly cremated, and an independent autopsy to verify official claims is now impossible.

On June 28, 2020 independent Jorge Enrique Rodríguez was arrested and was charged with “Fake news” for his reporting on this police killing of a black youth.

“Over social media demonstrations were announced for June 30 to protest the killing of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano. Secret police began shutting off internet connections, cell phones and started arbitrarily detaining those who they suspected would take part in the non-violent protests. Activists that recorded or expressed over social media their intention to take part in the protest action were detained, or had their homes surrounded and laid siege to by state security and placed under house arrest. Seventy Cubans were successfully targeted in this crackdown and the non-violent action was “prevented”.

Hansel E. Hernández Galiano (age 27) was unarmed when he was shot in the back by Cuban police on June 24, 2020

Hansel E. Hernández Galiano (age 27) was unarmed when he was shot in the back by Cuban police on June 24, 2020

Not mentioned was that the Castro regime launched the equivalent of a #BlueLivesMatter campaign that it called Heroes of the Blue ( #HeroesDeAzul ), but instead of something spontaneous from civil society or a police association this is a systematic campaign by the Cuban dictatorship. While at the same time shutting down independent actions as previously mentioned. The tweet below is an example from this campaign.

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“Imagine that you believe in the Cuban political system, and you are elected as a representative in your local rural area. You request that school bus service for local kids not be removed, so they don’t have to walk several miles to get an education. As a result of your request, you receive anonymous threats. One day a common prisoner that has been released under mysterious circumstances attacks you and you lose an arm,” said Tania Bruguera in the audio she was able to send to the Geneva Summit.”

Sirley Avila Leon addressed the UN Human Rights Council on September 24, 2018

Sirley Avila Leon addressed the UN Human Rights Council on September 24, 2018

There is a case of a person attacked under similar circumstances, and she spoke about it before the UN Human Rights Council with the assistance of UN Watch, and Hillel Neuer on September 24, 2018. However the details are different, but sound much the same. There may be another case, but I am not aware of it.

Sirley Avila Leon’s case has been thoroughly documented, and several interviews with her conducted over the years. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation provided a synopsis of what happened to this Cuban woman in 2015, and produced the above video short on July 19, 2016.

Sirley Ávila León is an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly of Majibacoa and a recipient of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s Dissident Human Rights Award. She joined the democratic opposition after she was driven out of her position for trying to keep a school open in her community. Official channels ignored her, and when she went to the international media she was removed from office. Following escalating acts of repression by state security, she was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. The assailant was Osmany Carrión, who had been “sent by state-security thugs,” Ávila León explains, for an act of aggression that “was politically motivated.”

Ms. Bruguera also called on listeners to “imagine that you are a human rights defender and you get ill and you do not come out of the hospital alive or that you are taken into the prison hospital and they inoculate you with HIV.”  Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola reports the International Society for Human Rights, a German NGO,  in 2018 he “was arbitrarily arrested, sentenced to prison, and there is convincing evidence that, either through the intentional acts of the Cuban Government or as a result of its serious negligence, he was infected with the HIV while in prison.”

Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and Martin Lessenthin, ISHR Germany in 2018

Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and Martin Lessenthin, ISHR Germany in 2018

Ms. Bruguera in her presentation said “the international community is also responsible for what happens to us activists in Cuba, the international community is also responsible for each political prisoner in Cuba, for the imprisonment of Luis Robles, Thais Mailén Franco, Inti Soto, Luis Angel Cuza, Yuisan Cancio, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Osorbo and all the prisoners of conscience that are legally vulnerable for doing something that in any other part of the world could be seen as normal: saying what they think freely in public.”

There are 170 Cuban political prisoners that are known today, plus the seven named above by Ms. Bruguera, and they need all of us to make their names known. Her presentation was an exercise in empathy, calling on the listener to imagine themselves in the shoes of political prisoners, Cuban dissidents, and victims of police and political violence.

International Society for Human Rights, May 26, 2021

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In May 2021, the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) launched the VERY IMPORTANT STAMPS prison mail initiative. Representing thousands of prisoners around the world, ten political prisoners were portrayed for postage stamps by well-known artists from Germany. The stamps were printed and can be obtained for free from the ISHR

PRISON MAIL INITIATIVE

How postage stamps are supposed to protect political prisoners

Frankfurt am Main, May 26th, 2021 – Belarus, China, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Turkey – critics of the system, human rights activists and artists all over the world are in prison – often without a confirmable offense, without charges or the opportunity to defend themselves.

Iranian women’s rights activist Saba Kord Afshari

Iranian women’s rights activist Saba Kord Afshari

Belarusian author and blogger Sergei Petruchkin

Belarusian author and blogger Sergei Petruchkin

Prison Mail – Letters That Save Lives.

Supporting politically imprisoned people is not difficult. Post from abroad is a tried and tested method. Every letter and every postcard can protect against reprisals or even torture because they send the message to the prison authorities that the detainee is held in high regard internationally and that their fate is being critically observed abroad. In addition, they provide psychological support. After their release, prisoners repeatedly report how much they were helped by letters sent to prison – even if they did not know the author or understood their language.

Cuban rapper Denis Solís González

Cuban rapper Denis Solís González

Taiwanese democracy and human rights activist Lee Ming-che

Taiwanese democracy and human rights activist Lee Ming-che

Portraits of inmates become stamps.

“The aim of the campaign is not only to bring the subject of prison mail closer to the general public, but also to generate a large number of letters and postcards to be sent to the political prisoners and help those who have been portrayed,” explains ISHR spokesman Martin Lessenthin. “After all, unimportant people don’t end up on postage stamps. Prison athorities in Iran, China and Cuba also know that”.

Iranian-German architect Nahid Taghavi

Iranian-German architect Nahid Taghavi

Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

10 prisoners, representing tens of thousands.

The most prominent example among the prisoners portrayed is the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The winner of the alternative Nobel Peace Prize was sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes in her home country for her commitment to human rights. The Iranian women’s rights activist Saba Kord Afshari and the German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi have also been portrayed in the stamps. The blogger Sergej Petruchkin and the opposition activist Svetlana Kupreeva are represented from Belarus, the regime critic Pablo Moya Delá and the rapper Denis Solís González from Cuba, the internet activist Raif Badawi from Saudi Arabia and the Kurdish singer Nûdem Durak from Turkey are also pictured. The portrait of the Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-che, who is apprehended in China, was also immortalized on a postage stamp.

Kurdish singer Nûdem Durak

Kurdish singer Nûdem Durak

Cuban democracy activist Pablo Moya Delá

Cuban democracy activist Pablo Moya Delá

Artists are committed to human rights.

Well-known artists from Germany stand behind the portraits of the prisoners. Laura Breiling, Tina Berning, Bene Rohlmann, Heiko Müller, Dijana Ejaita and Andreas Prize support the initiative. Three other creative people support the campaign anonymously. If the campaign is successful, another series of portrait stamps with other prisoners and artists is planned.

The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) based in Frankfurt am Main is one of the oldest human rights organizations in Germany. Through numerous actions and campaigns, in addition to other human rights issues, it repeatedly advocates the support of political prisoners.

Saudi internet activist Raif Badawi

Saudi internet activist Raif Badawi

 Belarusian retired accountant Svetlana Kupreeva

 Belarusian retired accountant Svetlana Kupreeva

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English audio: https://youtu.be/qiQHlnclP4w

Spanish audio: https://youtu.be/n_phjRBFuB0

Full remarks in English

Tania Bruguera, Cuban dissident artist circumvents internet cut-off to submit testimony of abuses

Imagine yourself walking on the streets with a friend and suddenly, a car stops, and four people emerge from the car and force you to get inside of it. Once you are inside; you realize that those with you are state security agents. You arrive at a police station, and they make you remove your clothes, they interrogate you, they don’ t allow you to make a call and no one knows where you are.  Imagine that you are one of the 170 political prisoners in Cuba today.

Imagine that you are having lunch and the police break into your home and take you before you have a chance to put your shoes on. Shortly thereafter you find yourself in a prison cell with common prisoners awaiting trial for completely fabricated charges. Imagine how would you feel if you know that you have no real legal protection because your appointed attorney works under direct orders from the government. Cuban lawyers may represent their defendants, but they work in the interest of the State.

Imagine a place where it is the exception rather than the rule that the police let you leave your house. Imagine seven months have passed by and although you have not committed any crime you are prevented from leaving your home to buy bread or to take out the trash. Imagine that state security agents are standing guard outside your house twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You can’t even dream of going out. Imagine going to prison because you asked to explain why they were subjecting you to such treatment.

Imagine that you are unable to leave your home and that you have no telephone or internet for months. On top of this you know that your friends are being harassed and imprisoned. Imagine that each time you try to tell your story to the world your internet service is cut off by the only phone company in the country, which happens to belong to the government. Imagine that people you know are afraid to lend you the phone line under their name for you to use because they know that electronic surveillance is one of the priorities of the Cuban government.

Imagine turning on the TV to watch the only national newscast in your country and suddenly finding that your personal telephone number with your name next, the address of your house and your personal information is on the screen. A news anchor stresses to listeners that indeed it is your number and here they can find you. Several hours later your voicemail fills up with hate messages left by people you do not know. Imagine knowing that most of those messages are generated by government agents passing themselves off as “the people” so if someone harms you physically afterwards, they can attribute the aggression to civilians. Imagine that someone on the street whom you don’t know runs towards you with a machete in his hand because of the hate speech generated by the government.

Imagine watching a national news program in which your private correspondence has been taken out of context, edited, and interpreted in such a way to serve a narrative that has nothing to do with your intentions, your actions or your way of thinking. Imagine seeing the newscaster point to fake documents that bear the logo of your organization. Imagine being the target of a government that, having lost its legitimacy, rationalizes its excessive use of force by criminalizing people who are just asking for their basic human rights.

Imagine that you have no right to challenge your government.

Imagine that you file a defamation case against your government and it is rejected because according to the court the government has the right to a free press — in a country where independent journalists are persecuted, where citizens’ access to independent media via internet is blocked, where citizen journalism is penalized to such an extent if you post a statement on Facebook  that is critical of the government, you will be sought out and fined more than your monthly salary. If you do not pay the fine you will go to prison.

Imagine that you die on hunger strike in prison.

Imagine that you are Black and poor, and a policeman kills you. The government justifies the killing even if you were unarmed and shot in the back. Imagine that the police kill a poor young Black man and if anyone dares to say something or demonstrate publicly, they are arrested. Imagine you are a woman, and a policeman rapes you or your partner commits femicide and you are not even a statistic because your government does not keep records of such violence.  Imagine that you are part of the LGBTIQ+ community and you can only be heard if you are part of the organization lead by the daughter of the ex-president of the country. Imagine you are an activist and because of that you are treated as a non-person, as someone without rights.

Imagine that your daughter studies journalism and was persecuted and expelled from her university because of her opinion, that she leaves the country because that is her only way to complete her studies. Then when she graduates and buys her ticket to come back the government doesn’t allow her to return to her own country. The Cuban government does not solve its problems, it simply expels those who keep reminding them there are problems to solve. They do not want anyone to criticize or oppose their political system.

Imagine that you have a daughter who dies because the balcony of a building falls on her while she was playing on the sidewalk. After you have inquired everywhere you can think of to find out who is accountable for the unsafe living conditions that people contend with to no avail, you desperately go out to the street to ask for justice and you end up in jail.

Imagine that the authorities make your life a living legal hell for wanting to educate your kids according to your way of seeing the world, according to your beliefs.

Imagine that you believe in the Cuban political system, and you are elected as a representative in your local rural area. You request that school bus service for local kids not be removed, so they don’t have to walk several miles to get an education. As a result of your request, you receive anonymous threats. One day a common prisoner that has been released under mysterious circumstances attacks you and you lose an arm.

Imagine that you are a human rights defender and you get ill and you do not come out of the hospital alive or that you are taken into the prison hospital and they inoculate you with HIV.

Imagine that all of this is treated as normal by the government. The victim is always presented as the one responsible for whatever has happened.

Imagine a country that receives food donations from international organizations which are supposed to be distributed for free and instead they are sold for hard currency in special stores that most citizens cannot access because they do not have dollars.

Now, imagine that all of this happens on an island that has been sold to you as the paradise of social justice, but it is really an island-prison and it is called Cuba.

A country where for decades you had to cease communication with your relatives abroad or you would lose your job, and where nowadays you depend on remittances from those same relatives. The government that once denounced those emigres as traitors now profits from large commissions on their remittances but does not accord them any rights.

All of this is happening in Cuba, where it is becoming more and more common to see those who ask for their rights are treated for mental illness and put in psychiatric wards, as if aspiring for political freedom or demanding for human rights were a demented behavior.

In Cuba you are not only persecuted in person but on the internet. The government has farms for fake news and an online army ready to strike against anyone who dares to criticize the state or asks that those in power be held accountable for their actions or engages in activism. This is Cuba, where the internet has proved to be such a threat to the government that it announced on National TV trials in absentia and threatens to extradite Cubans who live outside that criticize the government from afar.

This is Cuba where laws are created to protect those in power, not to make the lives of the people more secure. Cuba is a country where the only thing that operates efficiently is the department of state security.

In Cuba, just as in the film Minority Report you can go to prison not for what you have done but for what the government thinks you may someday want to do. There is a law for that. In Cuba you don’t even have the right to be recognized as a human rights defender or an activist. All political demonstrations and expressions of dissent are treated as common crimes because the Cuban government has declared that its socialist system is inviolate and unchangeable. In Cuba all laws and all the resources to protect the empowered and to silence those who dare to think differently or dare to expose the stark differences between the luxurious living conditions of the political class and the hardships ensured by the working class that stand in line for hours in search of food.

None of this is new, the history of injustices is long and repeats itself. The past presentations here at the Summit by my fellow Cubans, their denunciations could be retold today because the government has not changed. But what has changed is that the people of Cuba are not the same, Cubans are losing their fear of speaking out and they are showing it.

Today we can see that our president was booed by Cuban citizens when he visited a neighborhood that was hit by a tornado.

Today we can see that more than 300 people stood in front of the Ministry of Culture for more than twelve hours demanding to be heard.

Today we can see Cubans around the world are asking, together with those inside the island, for political freedom.

Today we have evidence of corruption in the government.

Today we have an extensive database detailing the harassment and persecution of activists and human rights defenders.

Today we can’t be naïve nor indolent in front of the actions towards activists and human rights defenders by the Cuban government.  The international community is also responsible for what happens to us activists in Cuba, the international community is also responsible for each political prisoner in Cuba, for the imprisonment of Luis Robles, Thais Mailén Franco, Inti Soto, Luis Angel Cuza, Yuisan Cancio, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Osorbo and all the prisoners of conscience that are legally vulnerable for doing something that in any other part of the world could be seeing as normal: saying what they think freely in public.

The international community has to wake up and realize that the dream of Cuba it has clung to what was created in the 60´s is not the Cuba of today.

Because the Cuba of today has neighborhoods where citizens go out into the street and demand the police forces leave. It is a place where neighbors band together to free activists that are being arrested by police. Cuba is also the people who are defending a street vendor from an unjust fine levied by police. Cubans are losing their fear and they are becoming aware of their ability to confront injustices and prevail, and that is a contagious feeling.

Today in Cuba complaints are being transformed into civic actions.

Today Cuba is different because it has also happened that a policeman feels shame when he has to take you. That policeman has started to think as a Cuban and not only as the repressive agent of the state. They also need a change, because more and more people have stopped believing in the political system in Cuba. The sense of injustice is penetrating all spheres of society and the government is becoming increasingly isolated.

Cuba also today has many activists with diverse interests who have found a common goal: the right to have rights.

The Cuban government today is an ironic caricature, but we should not forget that the Cuban government is a military dictatorship. Faced with this, people have changed the government slogan Fatherland and Death for one that is more attuned to their aspirations: Motherland and Life, because what we the Cubans want is to live in dignity.

Today, also, while I was recording this presentation, I was thinking about my fellow activists in prison, about the potential consequences that I will have to confront for participating in events like this one, the vulnerability that we feel daily. But I take strength in joining with others the words “Patria y Vida”.

https://www.genevasummit.org/tania-bruguera-speaks-at-2021-geneva-summit/