Cuban dissident artist should be released from custody, human rights group says

One of Cuba’s bravest and most beloved dissidents was in a hospital for over three weeks after being taken there by health officials on the seventh day of his hunger and thirst strike.

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, 33, was called “Amnesty International’s prisoner of consciencewho called for his release in an appeal that is repeated on social media.

“Luis Manuel is no longer allowed to spend a day in state custody. He was arrested on the sole basis of his conscious beliefs and must be released immediately and unconditionally, ”said Erika Guevara-Rosas, American director of Amnesty International, in a statement on Friday. “It is time for the Cuban authorities to realize that they cannot silence all of the independent voices in the country.”

Otero Alcántara, a performance artist, is the leader of the San Isidro movement, a group of artists, writers and intellectuals who campaigned for freedom of expression in the communist country. He advocated free speech and protested state harassment when health officials took him on May 2nd. The government questioned the authenticity of the hunger strike and surrounded Otero Alcántara’s house with police to disrupt the internet in the area.

After he was taken to the hospital, health officials said they did not find any signs of malnutrition and that he was stable. Three weeks later, friends and supporters are wondering why he’s still being hospitalized without communication, spurring speculation about his condition on social media.

Before the hunger strike, Otero Alcántara was arrested and some of his art was destroyed and confiscated after protesting the Communist Party Congress on a garrote. He went on hunger strike to demand the return of his artwork, compensation for the destroyed pieces, freedom of expression and an end to police harassment.

Two days before he was taken to the hospital, the The Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Havana visited Otero Alcántara and passed on that he had no intention of withdrawing.

The US government has expressed concern about the well-being of Otero Alcántara and in a tweet urged that he be treated with “dignity” and “respect”.

Cuban authorities say the US government is funding Otero Alcántara and the San Isidro movement and instructing them to create subversion. The group has denied the claims, stating that its members are being arbitrarily detained and often prevented from leaving their homes by state security.

In November, the authorities broke off a hunger strike by members of the group and sparked a rare protest with hundreds of artists and activists outside the Ministry of Culture. Those who protested formed another group called the 27N.

The San Isidro movement has bonded with people in a way that other movements failed to do at a time when the island was suffering from acute shortages of food and medicine.

Rappers from the group were working on a song called “Patria y Vida“or” Home and Life “with well-known Cuban artists living in the US and Spain. The song, whose title is a twist on the government slogan” Socialism or Death “, touches on many topics, including the desire for change and more freedom, Widespread Bottlenecks and Migration The song has become popular with many Cubans on the island and in Miami, where it can be heard on the radio.

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