RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Activists have documented more than 500 detainees since the July 11 protests in Cuba, among them several minors, while religious organizations are assisting relatives of those arrested and harsh testimonies of people released in the past few days are coming to light.
During and after the July 11 protests, which ranged from peaceful demonstrations to clashes with police and looting in some localities, there was a wave of arrests of participants and alleged instigators, including anonymous citizens, artists, opposition activists, and independent journalists.
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The government has not provided data on the number of detainees and it is not known how many there are, although organizations have made their own studies that estimate from more than one hundred to thousands throughout the country.
A COLLABORATIVE EXCEL
Activists have circulated an interactive list in an Excel spreadsheet that allows users to enter not only the personal data of those arrested but also useful information such as the date and time of arrest, the last report, or the place where they were last seen.
The list already includes 537 names in locations across the country, including eleven minors, among them a 15-year-old teenager.
They are usually charged with “contempt of court” or “crimes against state security. The organization Cuban Prisoners Defenders has denounced that many of those arrested are subjected to summary trial, without the possibility of access to adequate legal representation.
Some of them were released in the last few days, some without charges and others under house arrest awaiting trial.
Among the latter, the testimony of a university student, Leonardo Romero Negrin, who claimed to have suffered beatings and harassment during several days of detention for participating in a peaceful march in Havana, gained special prominence in the networks.
The portal La Joven Cuba, an outlet of leftist intellectuals in the country, revealed his full testimony and requested a “truth commission” to investigate alleged abuses by the authorities in connection with the J-11 protests, the largest in 60 years in Cuba.
Another young man released recently told Efe anonymously that he did not suffer beatings or humiliation in prison -only during the protest- and received “normal” treatment, except for the annoying and verbally aggressive interrogations, sometimes in the early hours of the morning.
THE CHURCH IS ON THE MOVE
The Catholic community, for its part, is also moving to assist those arrested. The Cuban Conference of Religious, which brings together all the congregations in Cuba, has begun to provide not only spiritual but also legal advice to the families of the detainees.
Above all, they help them to present the habeas corpus recourse so that they know in which prison their loved ones are and follow the process, although “Cuban law does not give many possibilities”, according to Jesuit priest Eduardo Llorens, one of the leaders of this initiative.
“We have mobilized because the number of people are many. They are estimated at several hundred and beware they are not thousands. This has an impact on society. They are people who do not have a profile of common criminals and had not had problems with justice before,” he explained.
NEW LADIES IN WHITE?
A call has also begun to spread, signed by the recently created “Mothers Movement”, for “all mothers, aunts, sisters, girlfriends and grandmothers” whose relatives “have died, are wounded or disappeared since July 11” to take to the streets on Wednesday all over the country.
This collective refers to the Ladies in White, the wives and relatives of the 75 dissidents imprisoned during the 2003 wave of repression known as “Black Spring”, who for years demonstrated peacefully to demand their release.
The mass arrests have generated criticism in the international community.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called this week for the urgent release of those arrested, as well as an investigation to punish those responsible in case abuses are confirmed.
The protests on July 11 took place with the country plunged into a serious economic and health crisis, with the pandemic out of control and a severe shortage of food, medicines and other basic products, in addition to long power cuts, which pushed Cubans to take to the streets to criticize their government.
The authorities, for their part, insist on blaming the U.S. for both the protests and the extreme shortages in the country.