Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cuba: Rights Activists Assaulted, Beaten, and Detained by Castro Government

NEW YORK (December 11, 2008)—At least 20 activists were detained in Cuba this week for planning to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). According to independent and verifiable sources inside Cuba, detainees, some of who were taken by force and beaten, include former political prisoners, human rights activists, opposition political leaders, and independent journalists.

“The government of Raul Castro is arresting human rights advocates for wanting to celebrate a declaration of human rights—it’s business as usual, the new boss is the same as the old boss,” said Sarah Wasserman, Chief Operating Officer of the Human Rights Foundation. “For a country that denies violating human rights, this is the epitome of hypocrisy; it’s evident that the Cuban government’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to notable pomp, circumstance, and self-congratulation earlier this year was just window-dressing.”

Civil society leaders around the island planned a number of peaceful activities to commemorate International Human Rights Day, including street marches, congregations in public and private spaces, and the distribution of copies of the UDHR text. In an attempt to prevent these activities, officials from Cuba’s security apparatus arrested likely participants from around the country.

Human rights activist and former political prisoner Lazaro Alonso was detained this Tuesday while walking home with his wife Belinda Salas, president of FLAMUR (Latin American Federation of Rural Women) and leader of the campaign “Con la Misma Moneda.” Eight policemen intercepted Salas and her husband at around 1 p.m. and physically beat them, arresting Alonso and leaving Salas unconscious on the street. She has not heard from her husband since then, and Cuban authorities refuse to disclose his whereabouts.

Last week, award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez was forbidden from participating in a bloggers’ meeting she had spent six months organizing.“These are not isolated incidents but part of the continuing decades-long campaign of harassment and intimidation perpetrated by the Cuban state against citizens that aspire to enjoy the individual rights the Cuban government claims to respect,” said Wasserman.

Such repression is in clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in Article 20 of the UDHR and Article 21 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Cuba signed the latter in February of this year. What many observers hailed as a symbol of positive change in Cuba, however, has meant little for those living there. A formal request by 13 civil society groups, spearheaded by the National Cuban Liberal Party (PLNC), asking the government to publicize the ICCPR and discuss its contents in a public forum has received only government intimidation as a response.

“If the Cuban government wants to demonstrate improvement on human rights, it should start by honoring its international commitments by respecting the rights of human rights defenders to celebrate Human Rights Day,” concluded Wasserman.


After more than 48 hours of illegal detention, Lazaro Alonso has been freed, badly bruised.

HRF is an international nonpartisan organization devoted to defending human rights in the Americas. It centers its work on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny. These ideals include the belief that all human beings have the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Armando Valladares, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.

Contact: Sarah Wasserman, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486,

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