Conflict & Justice

Cuba cracks down on activists, journalists


Supporters rally for the Las Damas de Blanco, Ladies in White, who are peaceful dissidents, on March 25, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Ladies in White were part of a crackdown on activism for International Human Rights Day this week.


Joe Raedle

Human rights defenders, political dissidents and journalists have been threatened, beaten and arbitrarily imprisoned in Cuba recently, and the widespread government crackdown continued on International Human Rights Day yesterday. 

On the 64th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, over 100 activists were detained and up to 150 others were put under house arrest, including members of the Ladies in White, women who campaign for the release of relatives imprisoned by the government, reports the Miami Herald. 

Protesters were harassed by police in Havana and detained for hours after staging rallies and marching outside two churches, one in Havana, and one in the eastern town of El Cobre.

The State Department issued a statement Monday saying the US was "deeply concerned" about the Cuban government's actions. 

"We call on the Cuban government to end the increasingly common practice of arbitrary and extra-judicial detentions, and we look forward to the day when all Cubans can freely express their ideas, assemble freely and express their opinions peacefully," said State Dept. spokesperson Victoria Nuland, according to AFP. 

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Cuba has been increasingly harsh on activists and journalists. This year alone has seen over 5,600 cases of detention or imprisonment, according to rights advocacy group the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. 

Most notably, Cuban journalist Calixto Martinez Arias, who reported on a 2009 cholera outbreak and in September wrote about shipments of medicine expiring, was imprisoned in September and has been on a hunger strike since November. 

Martinez Arias is being held in solitary confinement and spoke with his news agency, the independent Centro de Información Hablemos Press about the inhumane conditions in Cuban prisons, which the Committee to Protect Journalists recorded and posted on their blog [in Spanish]. 

According to, another political prisoner, Alexander Roberto Fernández Rico, informed Martínez Arias' news agency in November that he "was being held naked in a 'punishment cell' and being given only a liter of water per day."

Cuba reappeared on the CPJ's list of countries that imprison journalists this year after a year off it, one of the only countries in the Americas to still regularly appear. 

However, political dissidents see significant, on-going brutality by secret police and plain clothes officers, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation

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“Recent years have seen a growing trend toward police violence during detentions, despite the dissidents’ entirely peaceful behavior,” the commission said in its monthly report in November. 

The commissions's leader, Elizardo Sanchez, a leading opposition figure, reported similar treatment to Time magazine and said he was personally attacked in Havana, and another activist, Guillermo Farinas, was allegedly set up on by police weilding wooden sticks. 

In a letter to Cuban Interior Minister Abeladro Colome and the international press, Sanchez complained about the situation, saying “Arbitrary arrests, physical aggression, threats and humiliations against peaceful citizens are counterproductive to the necessary alternative that is a national dialogue."

UPDATED: An earlier version of this story reported it was the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the 64th.