CubaBrief: From Cuba to Russia, Rappers Are Being Targeted in Record Numbers. Amnesty International calls for access to Cuba to monitor trials of 11J protesters

Rolling Stone on March 25, 2022 published “From Cuba to Russia, Rappers Are Being Targeted in Record Numbers” an important article by Stacey Anderson reports, “Cuban rappers are now some of the most persecuted rap artists in the world, according to Freemuse, an international NGO that advocates for artists’ rights and freedom of expression. Since 2018, it has been researching and documenting government targeting, censorship, and imprisonment of rap artists. It originally released its findings at the 2020 Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and relaunched its research as an ongoing advocacy campaign, called #tRAPped, in July 2021. In Freemuse’s new findings, Cuba topped the list of countries with documented incidents constituting violations of artistic freedom, followed by Russia.”

Back in 2018 the Cuban rapper Denis Solís González posted a music video titled Sociedad Condenada (Condemned Society) onto 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.”

Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez Denis, in his Spanish column in The Washington Post published November 20, 2020 described the arrest and aftermath as follows, “Solís, a young rebellious Cuban rapper, called a policeman “a coward wrapped in a uniform” who on November 7th entered his house to harass him without his permission. He filmed the altercation with his cell phone and posted the video on his social networks. In a summary trial, without a defense attorney, Solís was sentenced for contempt to eight months of deprivation of liberty.”

FreeMuse followed up with how other artists demonstrated their solidarity with Denis. “On 12 November, several members of the San Isidro Movement protested outside of Cuba y Chacón police station, demanding freedom for Denis Solís. Among them were Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Iliana Hernández, who requested information on the whereabouts of Solís, but were detained while trying to do so. The other members from San Isidro Movement that were detained, though released later in the day, include Anamely Ramos, Maykel Osorbo, Oscar Casanella, Jorge Luis Brian, Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho, Esber Rafael, Braulio Hastié and Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna.” The protests continued and the numbers grew.

Rolling Stone reports that the arrest of Denis Solís ” became a watershed moment in the nascent movement: Amnesty International and PEN America condemned the arrest, calling it arbitrary and saying it violated international human rights law; closer by, his peers staged protests and a hunger strike on his behalf. Six of his fellow rappers secretly recorded a fiery resistance anthem against the government, “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), which quickly went viral.”

The opposition rapper Denis Solís with his colleague Eliexer “El Funky” Márquez shortly after leaving prison.

Denis Solís was released from prison on July 11, 2021, and found that he was subject to continued police harassment, threats, and unable to leave his house or work. Friends who had defended him Maykel Osorbo and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara were now also jailed and repression was rapidly escalating in response to mass protests that erupted the same day he was freed. El Funky was subjected to house arrest, and would eventually leave Cuba. Rolling Stone reported that “he worried for the safety of his friends, who stopped visiting him out of fear. Self-imposed exile to Serbia — one of the only countries accepting Cuban nationals in fall 2021 — felt like his only way forward. ‘I think it will be impossible to return to Cuba; I am on a blacklist now. I feel so homesick,’ said Solís.”

When he left Cuba for exile on November 29, 2021 the secret police through their social networks circulated the news that Denis Solís was at the airport and heading into exile.

Denis Solís at the airport going into exile in November 2021. [Facebook]

State Security had already warned Denis that they would continue to spy on him outside of Cuba. “Before leaving my country, the police let me know they will be watching me here. They are like ghosts,” Solís, 33, told Rolling Stone. “Sometimes I see someone [looking at me] and think, ‘Oh, that’s nothing, that’s just my trauma.’ But recently, a guy passed beside me on the street, and the way he looked at me, I could read it. It said, ‘I’m here. I’m watching you.’”

Amnesty International on March 24, 2022 presented an update on the political show trials still underway in Cuba, and also provided new information on Maykel Castillo “Osorbo” and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara:

“Two of those who face upcoming trials, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez, were named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International last year. Authorities detained Otero Alcántara, an artist and member of the San Isidro Movement, on 11 July just after he posted a video indicating his intention to join the protests. Prior to the protests, in May, authorities also detained Castillo Pérez, co-author of ‘Patria y Vida’ a popular song adopted as a protest anthem for which he and other artists won a Latin Grammy last year. On 8 March, the Central Havana Popular Municipal Tribunal announced that oral hearings would begin for both prisoners of conscience and indicated that they had been charged with various vague provisions of the Criminal Code including: ‘ultraje a los símbolos de la patria’ (insulting national symbols), ‘desacato’ (contempt), ‘difamación a las instituciones y organizaciones y de los héroes y mártires’ (defamation of national institutions, organizations, heroes and martyrs of the nation), ‘atentado’ (assault), ‘resistencia’ (resistance), and ‘desórdenes públicos’ (public disorder). Amnesty International has documented for decades how these exact public disorder crimes have been used to silence dissent. According to the court documents, pending the trial, both Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez will remain in provisional prison, where they have already spent more than seven months.”

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International correctly characterizes the political prosecutions underway in Cuba as “a series of unfair and opaque proceedings and trials of protesters in recent weeks, Cuban authorities have continued to wage a campaign of criminalization with the sole aim of re-establishing the culture of fear that was ruptured last year when people took the streets to express themselves.”

Artists and prisoners of conscience Maykel Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

These proceedings lack transparency and Amnesty International continues to request access to monitor, and document what is taking place. During the last Universal Periodic Review of Cuba in September 2018, the Cuban Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council responded to the human rights organization’s request to enter Cuba and monitor the human rights situation there: “Amnesty International will not enter Cuba, and we don’t need their advice.”

Cuba is the only country in Latin America that does not allow Amnesty International to enter and monitor the human rights situation there.


Rolling Stone, March 25, 2022

From Cuba to Russia, Rappers Are Being Targeted in Record Numbers

All over the world, governments are cracking down on hip-hop lyrics and other forms of protest — with dire consequences for some rappers

By Stacey Anderson

Denis Solis [ Photo by Anyelo Troya Gonzalez]

Denis Solís moved to Novi Sad, Serbia, in November 2021 — quietly, wearily, without a job lined up. Of his large and tight knit extended family, only two cousins joined him. And now, every day, when he leaves his apartment to wander unfamiliar streets in search of work — as a cleaner, dishwasher, mason, anything — he looks over his shoulder.

“Before leaving my country, the police let me know they will be watching me here. They are like ghosts,” Solís, 33, told Rolling Stone. “Sometimes I see someone [looking at me] and think, ‘Oh, that’s nothing, that’s just my trauma.’ But recently, a guy passed beside me on the street, and the way he looked at me, I could read it. It said, ‘I’m here. I’m watching you.’”

In his hometown of Havana, Cuba, Solís had two jobs: a sick-bay nurse and a rapper. It was the latter that led to his detainment, trial without an attorney, and imprisonment in November 2020, after he released music critical of Cuba’s communist government and was a leader in the city’s San Isidro Movement, an artist-led, pro-democracy uprising. His arrest became a watershed moment in the nascent movement: Amnesty International and PEN America condemned the arrest, calling it arbitrary and saying it violated international human rights law; closer by, his peers staged protests and a hunger strike on his behalf. Six of his fellow rappers secretly recorded a fiery resistance anthem against the government, “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), which quickly went viral.

Cubans living in Spain demonstrate in support of the San Isidro movement, November 24, 2020. AFP/Getty Images

By the time Solís was released in July 2021, the San Isidro Movement was making headlines internationally, and “Patria y Vida” had won two Latin Grammys. But two of the song’s biggest stars, Maykel Osorbo and El Funky, had been arrested, too. So had Solís’ closest friend in the movement, the visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, whose prominence in the cause had already led him to be arrested more than 20 times since 2017. And immediately, Solís’ life outside prison was unbearable, he says. Cuban police constantly harassed and surveilled him, he says, preventing him from working or leaving his house. He worried for the safety of his friends, who stopped visiting him out of fear. Self-imposed exile to Serbia — one of the only countries accepting Cuban nationals in fall 2021 — felt like his only way forward.

“I think it will be impossible to return to Cuba; I am on a blacklist now. I feel so homesick,” said Solís, whose legal last name is González. “But I will make more music about [what is happening in] Cuba. Making music, for me, is breathing.” (A representative for the Cuban government did not return a request for comment from Rolling Stone.)

Cuban rappers are now some of the most persecuted rap artists in the world, according to Freemuse, an international NGO that advocates for artists’ rights and freedom of expression. Since 2018, it has been researching and documenting government targeting, censorship, and imprisonment of rap artists. It originally released its findings at the 2020 Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and relaunched its research as an ongoing advocacy campaign, called #tRAPped, in July 2021. In Freemuse’s new findings, Cuba topped the list of countries with documented incidents constituting violations of artistic freedom, followed by Russia.

“We have seen a very clear global trend on the targeting of rap music, and it’s not a fad that is coming and going,” said Gerd Elmark, executive director of Freemuse. “It’s quite noticeable that lyrics of rap music, on a relatively thin basis, seem to be used as persecution evidence. It has happened with other types of music before, but there is an accumulation of these cases now.”

[ Rest of article here ]

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/cuba-san-isidro-denis-solis-russia-rappers-prison-1322445/

Amnesty International, March 24, 2022

Cuba: Amnesty International calls for access to country to monitor trials of 11J protesters

Photo by ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP via Getty Images

In recent months, Cubans of all ages and walks of life have been charged, put on trial, or sentenced for participating in last July’s nationwide protests, in largely unfair and opaque proceedings mostly held behind closed doors, said Amnesty International today, as it calls on the authorities to allow it and other human rights observers access to the country to monitor the ongoing trials.

“Through a series of unfair and opaque proceedings and trials of protesters in recent weeks, Cuban authorities have continued to wage a campaign of criminalization with the sole aim of re-establishing the culture of fear that was ruptured last year when people took the streets to express themselves,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“As is commonplace in Cuba, where the judiciary is firmly under government control, the proceedings have lacked transparency and independent journalists and human rights observers have been denied access to the trials.”

Two of those who face upcoming trials, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez, were named prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International last year. Authorities detained Otero Alcántara, an artist and member of the San Isidro Movement, on 11 July just after he posted a video indicating his intention to join the protests. Prior to the protests, in May, authorities also detained Castillo Pérez, co-author of “Patria y Vida” a popular song adopted as a protest anthem for which he and other artists won a Latin Grammy last year.

On 8 March, the Central Havana Popular Municipal Tribunal announced that oral hearings would begin for both prisoners of conscience and indicated that they had been charged with various vague provisions of the Criminal Code including: “ultraje a los símbolos de la patria” (insulting national symbols), “desacato” (contempt), “difamación a las instituciones y organizaciones y de los héroes y mártires” (defamation of national institutions, organizations, heroes and martyrs of the nation), “atentado” (assault), “resistencia” (resistance), and “desórdenes públicos” (public disorder).

Amnesty International has documented for decades how these exact public disorder crimes have been used to silence dissent. According to the court documents, pending the trial, both Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez will remain in provisional prison, where they have already spent more than seven months.

While authorities never responded to Amnesty International’s letter requesting information about how many people were detained in the contexts of the 11 July protests, NGO Cubalex has monitored the situation and estimates some 700 people remained in detention for protesting last year. The majority of them have been charged with provisions of the Criminal Code historically used to silence dissent.

On 16 March, in an unusual move in a context where defence lawyers are tightly controlled by the state and access to court documents is rare, Cuban authorities made public at least six sentences related to approximately 129 people, including some teenagers, who had been charged with more severe penalties for protesting. They were mainly accused of throwing rocks or bottles at law enforcement officials, and some were given sentences of 30 years.

In one case, 21 people, many in their early twenties, were formally charged with “sedition” and given harsh sentences ranging from nine years, for among other things, aiming to alter the socialist order (alterar el orden social socialista), inciting violence, breaking Covid-19 social distancing regulations, and throwing stones and flammable bottles. As is common in judgements in Cuba, the sentence described some individuals as having ties with anti-social people (se vincula con elementos antisociales) or poor relations with their neighbours, and indicated if they worked or not. Such language is often used to describe people deemed critical of the Cuban authorities, but should have little bearing on a criminal case.

Amnesty International reiterates its previous request to the Cuban authorities to grant it access to monitor the upcoming trials of Otero Alcántara and Castillo Pérez and many others who have been charged and remain imprisoned for protesting on 11 July.

“The Cuban authorities are using well-worn tactics of repression to send a message to a new generation of critical and well-connected thinkers: that dissent of any kind will continue not to be tolerated,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“We reiterate our call on the international community to condemn in the strongest terms the criminalization of peaceful protesters and insist on greater transparency and access for international observers. These are simple and reasonable demands for a government that has charged and/or locked up some 700 people simply for expressing themselves.”

Cuba remains the only country in the Americas that does not permit Amnesty International to visit to carry out human rights monitoring work.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/03/cuba-amnesty-calls-for-access-trials-protesters/