Two members of a dissident group of dissident artists have been sentenced to prison terms in Cuba, the country’s prosecutor’s office announced on Friday.
Maikel Castillo was sentenced to nine years for attacks and defamation against the country’s institutions and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 34, to five years for insulting national symbols.
Both were involved in the so-called San Isidro movement – named after the neighborhood where Otero Alcántara lives – which had attracted unusually wide support among prominent Cuban artists and musicians in 2020.
Their arrests had been denounced by international human rights organizations as well as by the US government, which viewed them as political persecution. The government said it was simply applying the law as it would anyone else.
Prosecutors had sought 10 years for Castillo, better known as the “Osorbo” performance, and seven for Alcántara, according to their friends.
The same court also handed down a five-year sentence to Félix Roque Delgado and three years to two women who were convicted of beating police officers in an effort to prevent the arrest of Castillo, a 39-year-old rapper.
He was among the composers of the song “Patria y Vida” – “The fatherland and the life” – whose twist on the communist government’s slogan “The fatherland or death!” turned it into a sort of anthem for opposition figures. It won a Latin Grammy award this year.
Otero Alcántara’s artwork depicting the Cuban flag was considered disrespectful.
In November 2020, the police broke up a sort of sit-in at Otero Alcántara’s home in support of another rapper, Denis Solís, who had been sentenced to prison for insulting a police officer. Castillo was among the participants in the sit-in.
Officials said they were enforcing pandemic restrictions on gatherings, but the movement prompted around 200 people to stage a larger and near-unprecedented protest outside the Culture Ministry. It broke after members of the group said they had won an unusual government wish for greater tolerance for independent art.
Otero Alcántara has also been the subject of protests from other artists after his arrest last year. He was hospitalized – apparently during a hunger strike – to demand the return of the works that the authorities had confiscated during his arrest.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had issued statements calling the case against the two artists a “farce”.
Their arrests were not directly linked to the large-scale protests that erupted later in 2021 over economic hardship and government policies.